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Beltrami County approves 2010 budget, levy

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Beltrami County approves 2010 budget, levy
Bemidji Minnesota P.O. Box 455 56619

Beltrami County commissioners approved Tuesday night a 2010 properly tax levy nearly 2 percent lower than 2009.

The $16.97 million property tax levy will help fuel a $58 million 2010 county government budget, which commissioners also approved Tuesday night.

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Both measures were unanimous roll-call votes.

Commissioners also in a separate measure unanimously approved a 2.5 percent salary hike for themselves, effective Jan. 1, raising their salary to $20,753.67, a $506.19 raise.

"We've agreed, we've negotiated, we've compromised," County Board Chairman Jim Lucachick said of the vote to approve the budget and levy for 2010. "We've done much better than some of our counterparts in other counties."

The total levy amounts to a 1.91 percent decrease from the 2009 levy of $17.3 million, attributed in part to the Bemidji Regional Airport Authority becoming its own taxing authority and the county no longer funding it.

Lucachick also said the county gained about $1 million by not filing some 30 full-time equivalent positions as county employees retired or left their jobs. A hiring freeze continues, but Lucachick admits that some adjustments may be necessary in staff-short functions.

"We've set the stage for 2012, and it will be no less challenging," said Commissioner Joe Vene.

For the first time, commissioners attempted a two-year budget because of the uncertainty of state funding. The state faces a $5.4 billion deficit in the next biennium, which doesn't include inflationary increases.

The county's estimated 2011 property tax levy is $16.55 million, calling for another decrease.

Commissioners, in doing the budget, decided not to "back fill" state-proposed cuts to programs. The budget doesn't levy back county funds cut by the state through unallotment, and doesn't backfill state funding reductions for services or programs through local revenue sources.

The 2010 budget is already forcing some tough decisions, such as Sheriff Phil Hodapp's decision to end mental health transports as of Jan. 1, which has a task force scrambling to find alternatives to transport mental health patients from North Country Regional Hospital's emergency room to treatment facilities.

It also plays a role in a pending decision to bring the Beltrami Soil and Water Conservation District into county government, making it a part of the Beltrami County Environmental Services Department.

Both issues were discussed during the County Board's afternoon work session.

The approved property tax levy for 2010 includes $15.1 million for regular levies to fund county government and $1.87 million for special levies.

The revenue fund levy, for most government services, is $7.47 million, nearly the same as this year. The human services levy of $5.47 million is down from $5.6 million, aided by savings in out-of-home placement costs with the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe participating in a state pilot project shifting the program financing to the state. Also, targeted case management fees were restored by the Obama administration.

The road and bridge levy is $2.17 million, down from $2.2 million,

While overall special levies were down, the jail debt service levy rose from $127,315 to $300,000 as the county would pay off outstanding debt of $600,000 when bonds are callable in 2012.

The $57.988 million budget commissioners approved would see its largest revenues, $27.57 million, coming from state and federal payments, followed by property taxes. The county expects $7.1 million from charges for services and $2.1 million from special assessments. It also expects $1.26 million in interest from investments.

Commissioners all agreed to raise their salary 2.5 percent, but also noted that individual commissioners may turn down the raise, as some will do.

Including the raise in base pay is called for by the county's comparable worth study, said Vene, who motioned for the increase in pay. "Also, a study shows Beltrami County compared with other comparable counties shows Beltrami County commissioners are the lowest paid in the state of Minnesota."

That said, "it remains the prerogative of each individual commissioner to accept the higher amount," Vene said.

"I have taken that position," said Lucachick. "I have accepted pay at the 2007 level. I feel that so many people are unemployed, and some counties have frozen pay."

The board also continued per diem pay at $50 a day for attending specific meetings, plus mileage.

Commissioner Jim Heltzer said he hadn't accepted per diems in 10 of the 11 years as a county commissioner. "Finally I'm so broke, I have taken per diem this year."

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