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Paynesville Press - Sept. 21, 2005

Stearns County approves budget for 2006

By Michael Jacobson

The Stearns County Board of Commissioners took the following actions at their meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 13.

•The commissioners adopted a preliminary levy and budget for the county for 2006. They approved the recommendation of staff, plus an additional $200,000 to cover higher gas expenses.

Next year's total budget is $99.6 million, with half the budget, or $49.7 million coming through a property tax levy. This is an increase in the levy of 7.88 percent over last year. With the tax capacity growth at 12.4 percent, this is the lowest levy in the past five years; homeowners who don't have a property value increase would see a decrease in their county taxes under this budget.

More dollars were allocated into public safety next year for methamphetamine enforcement, beefed up jail staff, and additional community corrections staff to work with released offenders. Additional dollars were also put into the county's road and bridge fund, which has taken a hit the past couple years because of state budget cuts.

The board will adopt a final budget in mid-December. Cuts can be made to the final budget, but it cannot include additional spending. A public hearing on the county's 2006 budget proposal will be held on Thursday, Dec. 1.

•The commissioners set a public hearing for Tuesday, Oct. 4, in consideration of the adoption of a County Public Nuisance Ordinance. Public nuisances can be any accumulation of excessive waste, such as garbage, furniture, appliances, animal carcasses, tires, yard clippings, tin cans, wood, and cardboard. Waste is considered a nuisance when it causes a public safety or health concern.

If county staff determines a public nuisance, the proposed ordinance calls for a written notice to the property owner to clean up the area; if that's not satisfied, the owner will have a hearing before the board, and if needed the board can order county staff to clean up the nuisance with the clean-up costs being billed to the property owner and if necessary assessed on their property taxes.

This ordinance would apply to all areas in the county except those within city limits. The hearing will be held at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 4.

•The commissioners denied a plat that would have allowed 10 new lots on Pirz Lake in Eden Lake Township. Dozens of residents turned out and spoke at a lengthy public hearing. Many concerns were expressed about the water quality of the lake and that further development could exacerbate the problem. On the other hand, the developer's attorney pointed out that if the land was used as residential, rather than the existing agricultural, it would likely improve the water quality.

There were also concerns over increased traffic and the loss of open space. Others pointed out that the plat does fit into the county's comprehensive plan and meets planning and zoning guidelines.

After the testimony, the commissioners agreed with the planning commission and voted to deny the plat. Reasons for denial, or the findings-of-fact, will be approved by the board at its next meeting.

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