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County whittles levy increase down to 2.99 percent

In a last-minute move to lower the 2012 county tax levy, commissioners came up with enough line-item reductions to lower the increase from the proposed 3.08 percent to 2.99 percent.

The move came as the board prepared to approve the final 2012 revenue and expenditure budgets and property tax levy. Treasurer/auditor Paul Gassert suggested a series of reductions, including approximately $100,000 less in expenses than previously anticipated in the corrections budget, a reduction in support of the Arrowhead Library System - from the requested $166,000 to the legally mandated minimum of $149,000 - and a decrease of some $2,700 in part time salaries in the office of the treasurer/auditor.

Gassert explained the reductions would bring the proposed levy increase down to 2.99 percent, or a total dollar amount of $20,983,820.

The board unanimously voted in support of the levy, and in a related action, they adopted a 2012 revenue budget in the amount of $23,844,149 and expenditures of $44,705,612.

In further budget matters, the board voted to hold the line on a number of annual expenditures, including commissioners' salaries ($21, 599 per year); commissioners' per diem rates for attendance at various board, commissions and committees ($50 both in-county and out-of-county); non-commissioners' per diem rates for attendance at county committee meetings ($50); meal expenses for county officials and employees at authorized meetings, seminars and conferences outside the county ($6 for breakfast, $8.50 for lunch and $14.50 for dinner, or as submitted by receipt); and mileage reimbursement (.555 cents per mile or the Federal reimbursement rate, whichever is greater).

Commissioners also voted to maintain the status quo for 2012 on annual salaries for county elected officials, including the county attorney ($99,910), the county auditor/treasurer ($85,107) and the county sheriff ($87,550).

In other business to come before the board, County Land Manager Greg Bernu reported on the results of the Dec. 14 timber auction, which brought in a total of $141,724 for 5,166 cords of wood. Bernu added that a total of $420,000 of timber has been sold by the county in 2011.

The board denied a request from Veterans Service Officer Duane Brownie asking the county to reimburse him and his staff for the purchase of jackets with the local veterans' office logo embroidered on them. Brownie said the jackets are good advertising for the local office when they are on official veterans' business, but Auditor Paul Gassert argued that clothing is not part of the budget for any other county department. Commissioner Tom Proulx stated that the overriding concern for him is that it could set a precedent for the future. The request failed for lack of support.

Carol Jelinek was reappointed for a three-year term as at-large member on the County Extension Commission, and William

Hayden was reappointed as county surveyor.

The county's level of support for the University of Minnesota Extension office was set at $165,105.

A three-month deferral of an economic development loan to Cloquet Home Center was granted. County Economic Development Director Pat Oman explained that the Home Center typically experiences a decrease in business during January, February and March. The deferral is contingent on similar approvals from the bank and the city of Cloquet.

The board approved a 2012 marketing budget of $41,000 for the County Economic Development Department to help fund such measures as business prospect identification, manufacturing summits, newsletters, business park brochures, tourism grants and regional marketing.