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Teri Finneman, Published September 12 2007

Clay gives levy to help homeowners initial OK

Low-income homeowners in Clay County could soon get some much-needed help to fix their homes.

The Clay County Commission gave preliminary approval Monday to the Housing and Redevelopment Authority’s request for a $100,000 one-time special levy.

The funding would be used to help rehabilitate between 20 and 30 homes. Moorhead and Barnesville would be exempt from the levy and the program.

The goal is to help low-income people who can’t afford major repairs such as roofing, electrical, plumbing or accessibility improvements, said Dara Lee, executive director of the authority.

The program will enable these homeowners to continue to afford their homes, as well as preserve housing in the county, she said.

The Housing and Redevelopment Authority will receive a $100,000 match from the Greater Minnesota Housing Fund and will apply for $400,000 from the state Department of Employment and Economic Development.

“We need these one-time (county) funds to get our foot in the door,” Lee said.

For the owner of a $100,000 house, the tax would be about $7, said County Auditor Lori Johnson.

Commission Chairman Kevin Campbell cast the lone vote against the levy, saying other county agencies that “do good things” have been denied funding requests.

He questioned if the Housing and Redevelopment Authority program was a priority and questioned adding another tax to taxpayers.

Whether the county goes forward with the special levy will depend on the housing authority’s success with its state funding request.

In other financial matters, commissioners adopted a preliminary levy of $24.6 million for 2008. With $3.3 million from the Minnesota county program aid, the certified levy is $21.3 million.

This is an increase of 5.46 percent from 2007, said County Administrator Vijay Sethi. However, the county expects to see 3.4 percent growth in its tax base, leaving the net increase as 2.06 percent, he said.

For someone with a $100,000 home, this would mean paying $3.80 more to the county, Johnson said.

The public hearing to finalize the budget is in December.

In other business, the commission:

- Agreed on an inmate housing contract with Cass County. The agreement will allow Clay County to house some of its inmates in Cass County and reduce the need to transport them to other Minnesota counties because of overcrowding.

- Decided to proceed with the bidding process for an active gas collection system. Officials say the system will pay for itself over a period of time, both in savings on leachate hauling to St. Paul and from future energy sales.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Teri Finneman at (701) 241-5560