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Tribune Editorial - County steers through changes

It was a year of change for Becker County, and Board Chairman Larry Knutson is probably glad it's over.

There were a number of personnel changes, both expected and unexpected: Sheriff Tim Gordon retired, and was replaced -- at least for the next two years -- with his chief deputy, Kelly Shannon.

Administrator Jack Ingstad was hired, filling a post that has been vacant since Tom Mortenson resigned.

Assessor Steve Skoog became full-time environmental services director, and will have his hands full overseeing the county's waste stream switch to an incinerator in Perham.

A new county assessor, Steve Carlson, was hired to replace Skoog, and was recently re-appointed.

Highway Engineer Brad Wentz is leaving for a statewide transportation planning job in Fargo, and new employees are being added in various departments to fill in vacancies and meet new demands -- more dispatchers for the sheriff's department, for example, since the State Patrol dispatch center here is being disbanded, and a new assistant county attorney to handle rising child abuse cases.

The personnel changes include county commissioners.

On Tuesday, the board welcomed new District 2 commissioner Ben Grimsley. He was among the commissioners that won in November and took the oath of office Tuesday.

Auditor-Treasurer Ryan Tangen administered the oath of office.

Next month, the board will select a new chairman, who will make committee assignments.

The board also said goodbye to Commissioner Gerry Schram, who has been on the job for four years.

With his wry sense of humor and willingness to put time into the commissioner's job, Schram will be missed on the board. He was part of a team that worked well together, and kept a sharp eye on how county tax dollars were spent.

Schram lost the election in November to Commissioner John Okeson. The two were pitted against each other after they ended up living in the same district when the lines were redrawn following the 2010 Census.

Schram was honored with a plaque in gratitude of his service to the county at Tuesday's board meeting, at a ceremony attended by department heads and other county employees.

In his "state of the county" address Tuesday, Knutson pointed out the county is in sound financial shape, with healthy reserves, modest levy increases, low indebtedness, and a solid bond rating.

Becker County raised its tax levy 3 percent for 2013, with commissioners voting Tuesday to increase the levy by about $542,000.

The board also passed a new solid waste ordinance, adopted the proposed five-year highway plan, and approved the purchase of new appraisal software for the County Assessor's office.

It was a year of change for Becker County, and commissioenrs have handled the rough weather well so far, but they shouldn't get too comfortable -- with the "fiscal cliff" and possible debt ceiling battles looming in Congress, those stormy seas could continue well into next year.