11th hour budget change defeated
St. Louis County's single biggest item of discussion this year -- the 2004 budget -- has been adopted by the Board of Commissioners. This week, after hearing some last minute adjustments and arguments to change the levy, commissioners approved th...
St. Louis County's single biggest item of discussion this year -- the 2004 budget -- has been adopted by the Board of Commissioners.
This week, after hearing some last minute adjustments and arguments to change the levy, commissioners approved the $253 million budget 6-1. Commissioner Mike Forsman of Ely voted no.
While the budget is down from 2003, residents will be paying more in property taxes. The 2004 levy is about $85.3 million compared to $82.3 million for 2003. Reductions in state revenue to the county have about an $11 million impact on the levy.
"Our levy amounts to approximately 34 percent of our total revenue," said interim administrator Ann Busche. "The facts are that St. Louis County spending has been decreasing."
She said 45 percent of the budget is related to staff expenses. For next year the county has budgeted for 2,273 employees, down from 2,337 this year.
"I have a rather difficult time supporting this budget," said Forsman. "I see a number of sacred cows ... I feel there are number of things left untouched during tough times."
He cited the county assessor's office as an area that needs trimming. Repeating his concerns from a previous budget discussion, Forsman called the office bloated and over staffed.
He said the department's revenue projections were as inflated as the property values in northern St. Louis County. The commissioner has previously proposed cutting $300,000 from the assessor's office and putting the money into capital improvements.
"Duluth residents are paying higher taxes to support this office and getting no service," said Forsman. "This particular sacred cow has absolutely devastated this county and divided this county."
Duluth and some other cities have their own assessors. Commissioner Bill Kron disagreed the office was a sacred cow and said Duluth does not get many county road and bridge projects, but still supports public works.
Commissioner Steve Raukar said he supports Forsman's argument, but would go with the budget. However, Raukar thought there should be additional money available to deal with unmet needs.
"We have the opportunity to add dollars," he said. " ... We need to have some capacity help people in their time of need. I believe our taxpayers expect us to be there."
Commissioner Peg Sweeney agreed with some of his concerns, and supported the idea of using additional levy money -- a $500,000 increase was available -- for infrastructure improvements.
But an amendment to increase the levy failed and the budget passed.
In other action at Tuesday's meeting: the board voted to suspend four liquor licenses for nonpayment of property taxes.
If taxes are not paid in 60 days the licenses will be removed. The following establishments were cited: Pokorny's Resort & Campgrounds, Kabetogama Township, Lakeview Castle, Duluth Township, Glenwood Lodge and That Place, unorganized townships.