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County levy to decrease

The Carlton County levy dropped from the projected 4.92 to 4.50 percent after a few last-minute changes during the last County Board meeting of the year Tuesday, Dec. 26. After a few clarifications for the commissioners, they voted to pass the levy.

The projected 2018 levy was estimated at $27.22 million. After $707,034 was subtracted from the levy and another $125,374 was added, the resulting total was $26.64 million.

The largest change subtracted from the projected levy was $234,639 for Human Services. The money will instead come from the Human Services fund reserves.

"Ideally we take in more than we spend," said Paul Gassart, explaining that the county likes to keep a cushion in reserves to cover unexpected or one time expenses. The county has built up the reserves over many years. To use money from reserves to pay smaller items is not unusual.

Fund balance and fund reserve are used interchangeably, but mean the same thing.

The next biggest change was $120,000 for the replacement of election equipment. The county will find out if they receive a 50 percent matching grant to cover the cost later in 2018. If they do not, they will delay the purchase for a later date.

A few smaller items, such as $50,000 (a one-time expenditure) for paving at the Transfer Station and the E911 grant advance for $36,001 will come out of the general fund instead of being included in the levy.

Added into the levy is $100,000 for emergency reserve, $10,000 for the law library, $11,619 for the gun permit reserve and $3,755 for aquatic species reserve, for a total of $125,374.

The amounts that are added in are from funds that did not get entirely spent in 2017 so they are carried over into 2018.

In other Carlton County Board news, five houses need to be demolished in Carlton County in the coming year.

According to County Auditor/Treasurer Paul Gassart, the houses are past the point of repair. Some even have trees growing through them. Three of the houses are located in Cloquet.

Gassart said they are making every attempt to rehabilitate empty houses that

are repairable.

The commissioners voted to keep the 2018 meal reimbursement rates for staff and elected officials the same and raise mileage reimbursement rates from 53.5 cents to 54 cents.

After much discussion, the board voted to give themselves a 2.5 percent raise in 2018.

"We should set it at 2 percent, the same as Social Security," Chairperson Gary Peterson suggested as he started the discussion. He noted many of his constituents live on Social Security.

Someone else suggested a 3 percent raise after finding out Carlton County Board members are paid substantially less than other similar-sized counties.

They finally agreed on a compromise of 2.5 percent, with commissioner Tom Proulx casting the only "nay" vote.

"I know my district got reassessed this last year," Proulx said. "And there was the school district increase and the fire department building a new fire hall. That stuff is not cheap and (it) does have an impact."

The original 1980s jail dishwasher has finally broken past repair. It will need to be replaced for an estimated $16,000. The money will come from the general fund reserverves.

Carlton County taxes on an average $100,000 house will increase $9. Gassart cautions residents to remember that city taxes and school taxes for the individual town will also factor into the end result a resident will owe on property taxes each year.

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