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Beltrami County commissioners study 2012 budget proposal

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news Bemidji, 56619
Bemidji Pioneer
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Bemidji Minnesota P.O. Box 455 56619

When the Beltrami County Board of Commissioners vote on the 2012 preliminary budget at the regular Sept. 6 meeting, the tally will likely be three to approve and one no vote.

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Commissioners Jim Lucachick said he remembers the consensus of commissioners at an earlier budget and levy meeting was to maintain the levy at the 2011 level with no increases or decreases.

"I compromised when I went to zero," he said during a budget and levy study meeting Tuesday morning. "I think government needs to get on the same boat as the private sector."

However, Commissioners Quentin Fairbanks and Joe Vene, who served on the budget committee, said they would support the proposed levy. And Commissioner Jack Frost said he would probably support it.

At the Tuesday meeting, the commissioners reviewed the proposed budget and discussed options. The total levy includes an additional $600,000 over the 2011 levy of $16,901,013 to a total for 2012 of $17,501,013. County Administrator Tony Murphy explained that the increase derives from the impacts of new construction payable in 2012. The proposed increase is less than the increase in taxes generated by the new construction, namely Enbridge Energy and Menards. Because of this increase in revenue from new construction, Murphy said the county portion of the property tax bill is expected to slightly decrease or stay the same for typical property owners.

The proposed budget raises the levy by 3.55 percent. However, Murphy explained that because of changes in valuations and rates, taxpayers would not see their bills increase by that percentage.

Lucachick objected to the additional $600,000 saying he had not been told what that amount was to be used for.

"It goes to buy down your dependence on state aid and credits," Murphy said.

He said Beltrami County receives the most state aid and Payment in Lieu of Taxes of any county in Minnesota.

Frost agreed saying, "We're - for lack of a better term - the poster child for state program aid and credit and PILT. We just do not have the tax-raising capacity."

PILT is money the state pays counties to service public land.

"Our biggest area of budget risk or vulnerability is our dependence on state aid," Murphy said. "We feel those are at risk from cuts by the legislature."

"It's just a toss-up; anything we do is just guesswork," said Fairbanks. "What I fear is we're going to take a big hit in the next two years."

Fairbank, Vene and Frost agreed that if the county adopted Lucachick's zero increase, rather than increasing by increments, the result would be a huge jump if the legislature cuts aid and PILT.

Murphy said the county administration has worked to make the government more efficient. He said full-time equivalent staffing is down by 48 positions since 2009, reliance on state aid for health and human services has been reduced by 44 percent and reliance on PILT has been reduced by 13 percent.

He said further efficiencies under study include the jail system and law enforcement.

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