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Dave Olson, Published September 09 2009

Tax hike included in Clay County budget

The Clay County Commission agreed Tuesday on a preliminary levy for 2010 that anticipates a 3.8 percent increase over 2009.

A resolution vote on the levy is expected next week.

The increase is expected to be offset by 1.9 percent growth in the county’s economic base, creating an effective tax increase of 1.9 percent.

On a home valued at $150,000 – the average home value in the county – the increase would boost the county’s portion of the home’s property tax by roughly $11.43.

By law, the county must approve a final levy by the end of December.

The final levy can be less than the preliminary levy, but it cannot be greater.

The preliminary levy does not anticipate mandatory furloughs for county workers, nor does it allow for a 2 percent cost-of-living raise for nonunion employees.

A 2 percent cost-of-living raise for union workers has already been agreed to as part of contract negotiations, and at least one bargaining unit has told the county it is not interested in reopening talks on that issue.

The preliminary levy includes $237,352 in revenues that would be raised through special levies the state allows counties to impose to make up for state funding unalloted by Gov. Tim Pawlenty.

Clay County Administrator Vijay Sethi had asked the commission to budget at least another $247,000 in special levy revenues as a contingency fund. He said the county has experienced many unexpected cost shifts this year where the state transferred certain responsibilities to the county.

“This year we had so many unknowns,” Sethi said, adding that more could materialize before the end of the year.

Sethi said if no problems arise, the extra money wouldn’t have to be levied. Commissioners Jon Evert and Wayne Ingersoll said they saw a need for a contingency fund, but they were outvoted by Kevin Campbell, Jerry Waller and Grant Weyland, all of whom wanted a preliminary levy without a contingency fund.

Weyland said cuts and other changes the county made to balance the 2010 budget are in some ways a Band-Aid, and he said significantly deeper reductions in county services will likely be necessary in the future.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Olson at (701) 241-5555