by Paul Rignell
The Sherburne County Board must approve more than $1.1 million in cuts by December to bring the 2012 budget in line with a proposed levy that the board approved Sept. 13.
County Administrator Brian Bensen spoke on the issue with Star News this week after holding a meeting with department heads.
The proposed general levy is about $41.84 million, representing a zero-percent increase over 2011.
Sherburne County held the line on its levy last year after forwarding a preliminary levy to the state with a 1.9 percent increase. It took more than $800,000 in cuts between September and December to bring that levy back down to where it was the year before.
After certifying this year’s proposed levy with the state, the county cannot consider raising it. The county commissioners are legally bound to work within the number they have established. “They can drop the levy lower than this one passed in September, but they cannot go higher,” Bensen said.
The county administrator said he would be meeting with department heads individually to identify where they could make cuts in their areas.
“They know the numbers,” Bensen said of the fiscal situation. “It’s possible that it will take a few weeks or a month to reach some answers for the board to consider.”
County land owners can expect to receive property statements with estimated 2012 taxes by sometime in early November. Along with figures for the county’s general levy, the statements will also include numbers for school district and city or township taxes as well as an estimated amount to cover the county’s portion of a regional rail levy. The county board approved a rail levy totaling $1.948 million for 2012, or a zero-percent increase.
The county is using those levy funds to cover obligations for Northstar Commuter Rail and to complete a process of acquiring abandoned rail right-of-way along the Great Northern Trail, extending from Elk River to Princeton through Zimmerman, where the county eventually plans to install a paved trail for non-motorized recreational use.
“We’re close,” Bensen said of that project. “We only have a couple chunks left in order to complete that right-of-way.
“We’ll hopefully be putting down blacktop in the next year, year and a half.”
The public will be invited to ask questions regarding the county levies during a Truth in Taxation meeting set for 6 p.m. Dec. 12 at the county government center in Elk River.