The Aitkin County Board of Commissioners set its preliminary budget Sept. 28, agreeing to a 3% increase in the tax levy.

The total levy is $16,033,606. Minnesota state statutes required the preliminary levy be set by Sept. 30. The levy may still be reduced before the December finalization, but cannot be raised higher.

The county board had listened to several budget presentations over the past two months before being asked for the preliminary approval.

The county is using approximately $1 million in fund balance to keep the levy at 3%; however, the county used highway and roads fund balance as well, so the general fund balance amount was about $614,000.

The county could have used more fund balance, said commissioner Brian Napstad, but large expenses – like potential renovations at the Aitkin County Jail – are expected in the future.

The county set its final budget hearing for Dec. 14 at 6:05 p.m.

In other reports from the meeting:

• Habitat for Humanity’s Ann Schwartz spoke about the current Habitat house, which is nearing completion.

“It’s been an adventure, building in the pandemic,” said Schwartz, who praised the volunteer work of house recipient Kara Anderson.

Schwartz added that the house is down to its final “punch list” of items and has been appraised at $197,500.

• The county received a clean, or unmodified, audit from CliftonLarsonAllen (CLA), with a small number of recurring issues to address.

Among the issues are risk management for computers and accounting procedures and figuration of duties due to limited personnel.

• Long Lake Conservation Center Executive Director Dave McMillan offered a quick overview of the center.

The recent COVID-19 surge resulted in fall field trips to the center being canceled. However, a new school has been booked and the center is working on a number of temporary programs that would take outdoor education to the students rather than having the students come to the center.

McMillan also said the new naturalists and educators at the center are working to provide different educational programs in the future.

• Aitkin County Land Commissioner Rich Courtemanche gave a brief presentation on a planned Dec. 3 land auction, then was honored for his time working for the county. He left his position Oct. 1.

“I want to say thank you to this board for its support,” said Courtemanche. I really appreciate the fellowship and guidance this board has given me.”

The next Aitkin County Board meeting was set for Tuesday, Oct. 12, at 9 a.m.

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