ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

Cass County Board: Preliminary levy increases 6.55 percent

WALKER - Cass County Board set a 2016 preliminary levy dollar amount Tuesday at 6.55 percent more than the 2015 budget, but this would cause only a 5.12 increase in the county's tax rate.

WALKER - Cass County Board set a 2016 preliminary levy dollar amount Tuesday at 6.55 percent more than the 2015 budget, but this would cause only a 5.12 increase in the county's tax rate.

The county is levying $19,585,613 in 2015. The 2016 preliminary levy the board set is $21,014,633. That would raise the county's tax rate from 30.567 percent to 32.132 percent next year.

Cass has the lowest tax rate among all neighboring counties. The tax rate declined from a high of about 48 percent in 2002 to the 30 percent range in 2007 and has remained a little below or above 30 percent since 2007.

---

Half of Cass County property owners live in the county - based on mailing addresses for sending tax information.

ADVERTISEMENT

---

The county budget committee this fall will review each department's budget request before recommending a final budget and levy, which the county board will consider setting after a public hearing scheduled for 6 p.m. Dec. 1 at the courthouse in Walker.

By state law, the board may lower the final levy, but not raise it from the amount set Tuesday.

Chief Financial Officer Larry Wolfe informed the board the preliminary 2016 levy is comparable to the amount Cass levied in 2007. Since then, the county set the same levy dollars five years in a row from 2009 through 2014 and raised the dollars levied in 2015 by seven-tenths of 1 percent for 2015.

The 2016 proposed levy increase for 2016 would be comparable to a 1 percent increase each year since 2008, Wolfe said.

If there is not a reduction when the board sets the final levy in December, it will mean a $12 increase for a $100,000 homestead or $15 for a seasonal recreational property or a $23 increase for a preferred commercial property of the same value.

It will mean on a $200,000 valued homestead a $28 increase or for a seasonal house a $32 increase or for a preferred commercial a $51 increase. For $300,000 properties, the homestead increase will be $45, the seasonal will increase $47 and the preferred commercial will rise $82.

Half of Cass County property owners live inside the county, based on mailing addresses for sending tax information. Another 28 percent live elsewhere in outstate Minnesota, 11 percent in the Twin Cities metro area and 11 percent live in another state or country.

ADVERTISEMENT

The county's 2016 budget committee includes Commissioners Neal Gaalswyk and Jeff Peterson and one citizen appointed from each commissioner district. Citizen members are Earl North, Chris Henneken, Jim Lohr, Dan Meier and Rick Baird.

County employees who serve as advisors and provide information to assist the budget committee in making decisions include Wolfe, Administrator Robert Yochum, Auditor-Treasurer Sharon Anderson and Assessor Mark Peterson.

---

Cass County has about six fewer total employees today than at the peak in 2006.

---

Department heads submit budget requests each year to the budget committee. The committee then compiles those requests, reviews them, makes suggestions for changes and makes a final recommendation to the county board.

The board then receives public comment and sets a final budget and levy in December.

One reason county expenses have increased during the years the county kept the same levy is because employees received about 3 percent pay raises through step increases each year. Though the pay scale stayed the same in 2010, 2011 and 2012 that scale was raised in 2013, 2014 and 2015, giving an additional 2.5 percent wage increase each of those years.

ADVERTISEMENT

The county did reduce the number of employees between 2007 and 2011, but has hired some additional employees between 2012 and 2014. Cass has about six fewer total employees today than at the peak in 2006.

Cass County generated new revenue annually prior to the recession, because new construction generated additional new tax revenue annually prior to that. When the recession hit, new construction dwindled, meaning there no longer was much new revenue coming from new taxable properties.

When there was new revenue, the county set aside some of that newly generated money in a separate fund at the end of each year.

Tuesday, Wolfe informed the county board the budget committee this year will be asked to consider whether to use some of that accrued fund balance to pay for current needs to hold down levy increases.

He cited six requests for 2016 that are not included in the proposed preliminary levy, but have been identified as proposed expenses in 2016. If the budget committee and county board approve them, fund balance would have to be used to pay these costs.

Those include adding one maintenance staff person, plus repairs for county building maintenance ($154,000); purchasing hearing devices and presentation equipment for court administration ($110,000); covering expected increased child out of home placement costs ($500,000); forgive a loan made to Cass Housing and Redevelopment Authority ($50,000); extra labor cost for transition from existing employee to new employee in county engineer position ($31,000); and extra labor cost for transition from existing employee to new employee in payroll benefits position ($20,000).

Cass has set aside a contingency fund in prior year budgets to pay for expected emergency expenses. There is no contingency fund in the proposed 2016 budget, so any emergencies also would have to be paid from fund balance.

Information provided to the budget committee shows Cass's 2015 actual revenue and expenditures through July both ran slightly higher than the budget had anticipated.

Related Topics: CASS COUNTY BOARD
What To Read Next
Who are the people being held in custody in Aitkin, Beltrami, Cass, Clearwater, Crow Wing, Hubbard, Itasca, Mille Lacs, Morrison, Todd, and Wadena counties?
Fundraising is underway to move the giant ball of twine from the Highland, Wisconsin, home of creator James Frank Kotera, who died last month at age 75, 44 years after starting the big ball.
Inmates in-custody in the Mille Lacs County jail in Milaca, Minnesota
Inmates in-custody in the Hubbard County jail in Park Rapids, Minnesota