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Auditor: Beltrami County deserves an 'A'

BEMIDJI -- According to Sarah Utsch, auditor with Larson Allen, Beltrami County deserves an "A" grade based on its healthy fund balance levels.

"I would say it is right on that 'A' mark," Utsch said during the Beltrami County Board's Tuesday afternoon work session. "Everything is great."

The informal letter grade was given in response to a question by County Commissioner Jack Frost as a way of qualifying the county's performance in its 2011 audit.

Utsch said the county has 7.7 months' worth of funds built up in its fund balance, which includes funds for general expenditures, roads and bridges, and health and human services.

This means that without any tax revenue coming in, the county has the funds to function for 7.7 months, which equates to nearly $34 million in reserves. Utsch said the state auditor's office recommends three to six months of reserves.

Beltrami County Treasurer Kay Mack said the "A" grade means the county is in a healthy position in terms of the fund balance. The auditor's job is to make sure the county's funds accurately reflect its financial condition, not to tell the county whether it has enough in its general fund.

Storm damage update

With the estimated $2 million loss caused by the July 2 storm, Beltrami County Emergency Management Director Beryl Wernberg said she continues to fight for Federal Emergency Management Agency assistance.

"Right now we are concentrating on the loss of tourism dollars (and) the loss of any kind of business associated with tourism," Wernberg said at the work session.

"We have had people calling us in dispatching (to ask) 'Can I come to Bemidji and go to the bank? I heard all the roads are closed.' We did a lot of rumor dispelling in the early days that followed."

Wernberg said if the loss is significant enough, FEMA could issue a declaration, giving assistance to people who sustained damage through low-interest loans to pay for repairs. If the county does not qualify for the FEMA declaration, she said the Legislature could also offer some assistance.

Beltrami County Natural Resource Manager Richard Moore also attended the meeting, saying that the timber that fell in the storm is mostly scattered, with no major areas of blown-down trees.

Moore said Grant Valley took the biggest brunt of the damage. He has been coordinating with the DNR, which will fly over and take pictures, giving the county a better idea of where the damage is.

Moore said he hopes to set a sealed-bid timber auction for sometime in September or early October to allow loggers to harvest and purchase timber from the blown-down areas. He said blow downs are more hazardous for loggers to harvest because trees are twisted and toppled on each other, making it a much more labor-intensive process.

"We will never see as much money for that because it is a much more labor-intensive effort to get those trees out of the woods."

Frost asked if loggers would take small quantities of trees out of yards or small plots of land. Moore said that if the trees are difficult to get to, the contractor might ask the homeowner to pay for the removal, but if the trees are easy to get to they may offer some money for the trees.

Moore said the Bemidji Area Forestry Affairs Council estimated that there were 12,000 acres of fallen trees, but Moore said the number is likely closer to 1,000 acres because they are so scattered.