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Beltrami County holds hearing on $54 million plan for 2011

Beltrami County commissioners held a public hearing on its $54.18 million 2011 budget plan Tuesday night, but nobody came.

Maybe it was the subzero wind chill, or the blizzard-like snow drifting that kept people away.

Commissioners, however, like to think it was the 0.43 percent property tax decrease that kept satisfied taxpayers at home. About a half dozen department heads were in the audience awaiting public questions, but only Commissioner Jim Heltzer's wife, Marilyn, was in the audience.

"The good news here is we've done our best not to increase property taxes," said County Administrator Tony Murphy.

Last year's pipeline construction added market value to the tax base, allowing Beltrami County's tax base to grow without raising taxes, Murphy said. New property taxes from Enbridge Pipe Line Co. in 2011 will reach $220,000.

Tuesday's public hearing was mandated by the state to allow citizens to question county commissioners on county spending. Formerly known as a truth-in-taxation hearing, hearing notices were sent to all county property taxpayers, Murphy said.

"It's been hard the last couple of years with gubernatorial unallotments," he said. "The budget is still a moving target with the state budget deficit. We have a very responsible budget plan but it is a living document."

Property taxes for 2011 of $16.9 million are $73,513 less than 2010 property taxes of $16.97 million. Regular levies are $15.16 million and special levies $1.7 million. Regular levies are those which run county government while special levies are mainly debt service levies.

Nearly a third -- 32.39 percent -- of the county's projected 2011 spending will go to human services. General government services take up 16.82 percent and highways and streets 16.07 percent. Public safety is 15.08 percent.

The county expects $54.2 million in revenues in 2011, $23.65 million of it from intergovernmental sources (federal and state). Property taxes at $16.9 million is second. Third, at $7.13 million, is charges for services.

"It is a responsible budget and it was a nice thing to campoaign on," said Commissioner Jack Frost, who was the only challenged commissioner in this year's election.

Commissioners also held a public hearing -- with no public comments taken -- on the county's five-year Capital Improvement Plan. Most of the time was spent on part of it, the five-year transportation plan.

New County Highway Engineer Bruce Hasbargen said he had a lot of "X's" to fill as he has yet to prioritize projects. But most of those "X's" will be paved county roads needing bituminous overlay maintenance, he said.

Until now, commissioners had used payment-in-lieu of property taxes from the state for paving gravel county roads.

"With this economy, I'd rather do maintenance on roads we have than to create new paved roads," he said. "If we don't overlay them now, we will have to mill them out and start new.

2011 road and bridge projects include:

- County Road 48, County Road 7 to County Road 2, grading and gravel surfacing, $1.35 million. A joint project with Hubard County.

- County Road 26, state Highway 89 to County Road 15, bituminous overlay, $1.2 million.

- County Road 301, County Road 15 to Turgi Hill Road, grading and gravel surfacing, $900,000.

Hasbargen added a 2011 project at during Tuesday's public hearing because of the availability of federal funding which will draw state funding.

County Road 8 will see a bituminous overlay from County Road 50 to County Road 25, a 6.5 mile stretch. The feds will provide $900,000 and the state $700,000.