After several months of property tax levy meetings and budget cutting by Beltrami County staff members, Beltrami County commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday for a proposed $16.9 million 2010 budget, a decrease of $330,855 from the 2009 budget.
County Board Chairman Jim Lucachick pointed out that while the decrease is 1.91 percent, about half of that has shifted to the Bemidji Regional Airport Board's new taxing ability. Consequently, he said, the real decrease taxpayers will experience is about 1 percent.
However, Commissioner Jim Heltzer said there are many taxing entities - Bemidji School Board, Headwaters Regional Development Commission, city of Bemidji - over which the County Board has no control.
"We are not responsible for all those other levies," Heltzer said.
County Administrator Tony Murphy said departments worked hard to find ways to cut the budget, including reducing staff by 23 full-time-equivalent positions.
Murphy told the commissioners that part of the budget development involved looking past 2010 to position the county favorably for 2011 and 2012.
Lucachick commended Murphy and the staff, saying, "I think we set the tone. They did the heavy lifting."
Heltzer said he wants to review some of the expenditures such as road maintenance and 4-H that his constituents noted as important services.
Commissioner Quentin Fairbanks reminded the other commissioners that once the budget is set, the County Board can reduce the levy, but cannot increase it. However, the commissioners agreed that there could be some trade-offs within the budget but without any increase.
The public hearing on the budget is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Dec. 1 in the County Board Room.
Tax law change
Beltrami County commissioners also passed unanimously a resolution to avoid 2009 legislation that would negatively affect taxpayers whose property is taxed as several parcels.
Kay Mack said the law she has dealt with for the 30 years she has served as county auditor/treasurer allowed taxpayers to split any tax payments of more than $50 into two segments due in May and October. House File 1298 jumped the amount that can be split to more than $250.
Mack said she isn't surprised at an increase after such a long time, but an increase of $200 will cause hardship to some land owners.
For example, she cited a Maple Ridge Township farm that is taxed as 11 parcels, almost all of which are taxed at less than $250. So, that land owner, who now pays $1,406 in May and the remainder in October would under the new law have to pay $2,365 in May, or 84 percent of the total tax bill in the first half of the year.
Mack said the law allows counties to set tax installment thresholds that fit their particular situations. She speculated that the counties that can work with the new law probably have no parcels taxed at less than $250.
The commissioners voted for a resolution to keep the $50 tax threshold for landowners with more than one taxing parcel.
"The state has allowed us an out," said Lucachick. "It's a no-brainer. Thanks for putting that (resolution) together, Kay, and doing the logical thing."