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Hubbard County taxpayers will see only a 2.6 percent levy increase in 2011

Hubbard County officials finalized a lean and mean budget Wednesday that will result in a 2.6 percent levy increase.

But because the county's tax base has seen an overall reduction of 5 percent, most Hubbard County residents were not happy when they got their 2011 tax notices in the mail.

For many, taxes went up 10 percent and more. In a minority of cases, taxes did decline.

Hubbard County will levy $11.660 million to support a budget of $27.472 million for 2011.

And that final budget expenditure actually exceeds by $453,542 anticipated revenues.

It's too early to know if the county will have to dip into its proverbial cookie jar for the deficit.

"We have balances within our funds," explained auditor Pam Heeren. "That's why we have this, when your revenues are down and your expenditures haven't gone down, they've gone up, then you have a little balance to use like at home."

Revenues and expenditures are only projections.

"If you look at Social Services and Solid Waste they contribute to that $453,000 that you're going to go in the hole. Again they have resources, revenue sources," to make up the difference, Heeren said.

Heeren and the county board both praised department heads that were told by commissioners to hold the line to 2008 spending levels even though some office expenditures like salaries have consistently gone up.

Either find more revenue sources or suck it up somewhere else in your budget, county board chair Lyle Robinson told them.

Sheriff's Department

The last department to finalize its budget was the Sheriff's Department, which came in $15,000 above the amount commissioners initially allotted it.

Heeren assured the board the overage was reasonable. Incoming sheriff Cory Aukes isn't so sure.

"Some of it is going to be impossible to live by," he said. "They left me $1,000 to train my entire department. It probably should be $30,000.

"Overtime, I believe in 2008, compared to that number, they left me roughly $30,000 less in overtime to function in 2011," he said.

"The amount we can spend for fuel, we'll probably be out of fuel by August or September."

But Heeren said things aren't that dire - yet.

In 2008 the sheriff's department budgeted $60,000 for overtime and used $80,900 according to county records. In 2009 the department budgeted $63,000 and used $74,300. 2010 figures have not been compiled. The department has budgeted $50,000 for overtime in 2011.

In 2008 the department budgeted $48,000 for fuel and vehicle maintenance and actually spent $87,000. In 2009 the department budgeted $43,000 and used $49,830. For 2011 the department has budgeted around $46,000 for fuel and vehicle maintenance and repairs.

It's possible to adjust some expenditures by cutting back in other areas, Heeren said, and the Sheriff's Department has usually come in within its budget.

In the past, only minimal amounts have been spent of the budgeted training amounts, only $400 in 2009.

Why the increase?

"You conceivably can have your tax base declining and your tax going up because of the levies of the various units of government," said county assessor Bob Hansen. "The county levy being only a small piece of a bigger picture.

"School district tax, city or township tax, each unit has its own levying authority and may increase or hold levies differently," Hansen said. "Anytime anybody's levy goes up it means that there's more tax dollars needed, whether it's county, school district, city, township. And the tax base only determines what portion you spread it across," he said.

"Some properties, especially in the city of Park Rapids, have seen some significant declines," Hansen pointed out. Others may have seen slight increases or seen their values hold.

"If you have three property owners for example that all have the very same value, $100,000, last year," he explained. "Let's say one went down this year, one stayed the same and the other one went up a little bit. It's going to shift taxes away from one property owner, the one that's value went down, over to the other two property owners because of the fact there's so many dollars needed and it has to come from that tax base."

And, if not for a 1 percent growth overall in new construction, the county would have seen a steeper decline in its tax base, Hansen pointed out.

But Hubbard County may not have seen the bottom yet.

"Has it bottomed out here?" Hansen asked. "I'm not sure. I think we're going to be seeing, based on what we hear happening down south in the metro area and some of your bigger cities it seems like we always trail what happens, the more populous areas, by a year or two. So it's possible we have not seen the bottom yet."

Sarah Smith

Sarah Smith is the outdoors editor. She covers courts, business and breaking news in addition to outdoors events.

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