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Beltrami County Board: Commissioners consider possible effect of governor's unalloment

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Beltrami County Administrator Tony Murphy closely followed the play-by-play of the state Legislature and Gov. Tim Pawlenty during the weekend.

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So he could respond with a "Maybe" when Beltrami County commissioners asked him during Tuesday's County Board meeting whether he had ideas on how the governor's cuts would affect the local budget.

Murphy predicted a $2 million hit on Beltrami County programs and services.

He said he expects a $400,000 reduction in Payments in Lieu of Taxes.

"Also on our watch list ... probably a cut in SCORE (Select Committee on Recycling and the Environment)," he said, referring to money that comes back to the county from solid waste payments.

He said library aid and the community health block grant are likely to be cut, as well.

"We could end up seeing a cut, unmeasured at this time, to our natural resources block grant," Murphy said. "Expect a $2 million range. Without new revenue on the table it will have to be in that range."

Commissioner Joe Vene asked if Murphy knew of any governor who has determined to use his line-item veto to unallot a budget bill to the extent of Pawlenty's plans.

"I think it's fair to say he is plowing new ground here," Murphy said.

Commissioner Jim Heltzer said he is especially concerned with the possible cuts to health and human services, such as the $4.9 million North Country regional Hospital is in line to lose.

He said because Beltrami County is a relatively poor area, the consequences will have a big impact on people's quality of life.

"So, when we make our budget, we have to take that into consideration," Heltzer said. "I look forward to the challenge, but not with a lot of enthusiasm."

The County Board also held a conference call with Sen. Mary Olson, DFL-Bemidji.

She said the discussion is still open about the placement of proposed veterans homes, and locations would not be committed until the final report is completed.

"We have the largest geographic area that's underserved," she said.

She said the governor has not detailed his unallotment plans, but, "This is extremely serious. It's going to be devastating."

Olson was critical of the outcome.

"The governor seemed to just not want to engage in any compromise," she said. "He wanted to unilaterally do the unallotment. I'm just very disappointed that's the direction we're going to go."

She said she would provide information to the County Board as soon as she knows more details.

"We've continued to just be in a kind of a hold pattern until we figure out what he's going to do," said County Board Chairman Jim Lucachick.

"Try to budget as conservatively as you can," Olson said.

To which the commissioners responded, that's always their goal.

mmiron@bemidjipioneer.com

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