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Paynesville Press - Sept. 03, 2003

Stearns County Commissioners Meeting

The Stearns County Board of Commissioners took the following actions at their meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 19.

•The board viewed a preliminary budget for 2004 for the first time. Despite cuts in state aid ($2.5 million in general state aid and $2 million in aid cuts to human services), the proposed budget for 2004 is $87 million, up $1 million or 1.1 percent from 2003.

Cuts were made in all county departments, and the proposed budget calls for approximately 30 staff layoffs and retirements. The increase in the budget is due primarily to an increase in the jail levy because the additional state prisoners will be housed in the county jail.

Despite the slight budget increase the county's tax rate is going down for the third year in a row.

The board must approve a preliminary tax levy no later than Monday, Sept. 15.

The board will hold a truth-in-taxation hearing on the budget and the tax levy in December.

•On a 3-2 vote, the board approved allowing tax-free zones in the county. The Job Opportunity Building Zones (JOBZ) program - part of Governor Tim Pawlenty's economic development effort - gives tax incentives to distressed areas, up to ten in the state.

The cities of St. Cloud, Melrose, and Sauk Centre have expressed interest in applying for the JOBZ program, though it is unclear if any areas in Stearns County will qualify as a distressed area.

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