County board sets levy, budget for next year

The property tax levy will increase by 4.97% in 2021, meaning the county is expected to collect a total of $41,262,480 next year from those who own property. While still an increase over the 2020 tax levy, it’s a smaller increase than each of the last two years — 6.99% in 2019 and 6.95% in 2020.

County commissioners discuss the 2021 property tax levy and budget Tuesday, Dec. 29. Screenshot / Chelsey Perkins

The Crow Wing County Board ended 2020 on a conciliatory note with the unanimous passage of its budget and property tax levy for next year.

After what could be characterized as a contentious few months for the board leading up to the November election, Commissioner Paul Koering focused on where he could reach agreement in comments following the 5-0 vote Tuesday, Dec. 29. He said while he didn’t like everything in the county’s 2021 budget, he agreed with most of it — enough for the resolution to garner his support.

“In life, if you can get 90%, I guess that’s pretty damn good. I just want you to be aware that I don’t agree with everything in there but I agree with a large portion of it, so I gave it a yes vote,” Koering said while participating in the meeting virtually.

Commissioner Paul Koering speaks during a Tuesday, Dec. 29, county board meeting. Screenshot / Chelsey Perkins


Commissioner Rosemary Franzen said she agreed with Koering, noting her disagreement with some items led her to not make the motion to approve the measure, but she ultimately voted in favor as well.

“I think it raises a good point,” said County Administrator Tim Houle. “A $95 million budget. If there’s not something in there that you don’t like, then you’re not looking closely enough at it. There are things in there that I don’t like, too. … We don’t always get everything we want in life, right?”

Koering said Houle was exactly right.

“This board has our differences, you know. I think I could go through all of us. Rosemary and I have had our fights, and Commissioner (Doug) Houge,” Koering said. “… But I appreciate all the county board members and working with them, and we’re going to work together where we can and when we can’t, we’ll vigorously debate each other. And then when we leave that room, hopefully we’re not — we don’t have hatred toward each other.”

Levy details

The property tax levy will increase by 4.97% in 2021, meaning the county is expected to collect a total of $41,262,480 next year from those who own property. While still an increase over the 2020 tax levy, it’s a smaller increase than each of the last two years — 6.99% in 2019 and 6.95% in 2020.

Three main budget pressures are driving increases, according to county officials — about $1.1 million in additional personnel costs, due to the once-in-a-decade occurrence of a 27th pay period; another nearly $1 million expected loss in revenue because the Minnesota Department of Corrections may no longer house state inmates in the county jail due to the effects of the pandemic; and a loss of investment income because of a drop in interest rates, conservatively estimated at $293,985.

County Administrator Tim Houle speaks during the Tuesday, Dec. 29, county board meeting. Screenshot / Chelsey Perkins


Impact on taxpayers

How does this increase in the county’s levy impact taxpayers? It depends on the individual circumstances of each property — most notably, changes in value. In some cases, people may end up paying less to Crow Wing County than in the previous year, even with the increase in the amount of money to be collected.

For example, if the owner of a Brainerd residential homestead property with an average market value of $101,200 saw no change in the assessed value of their home between 2020 and 2021, they would actually see the county portion of their taxes decrease by $1 — $328 versus $329. If the value of their home increased by the average 3.73% next year, they would pay $340, or $11 more.

The owner of the average Baxter commercial/industrial property valued at $1,063,100, experiencing no value change, would pay $6,773 instead of the $6,801 paid in 2020, or $28 less. With an average increase in value, however, that taxpayer would shell out $233 more.

No value change to the average $376,500 seasonal recreational property in Crosslake would also result in a small decrease in taxes year over year, from $1,248 to $1,243. Or with the average value increase, the seasonal recreational property owner would pay $41 more.

How property taxes will be spent

Property taxes are expected to account for 45% of total county revenues next year, with intergovernmental revenue — such as grants, cost-sharing agreements and other financial arrangements with other units of government — accounting for 33% of the projected revenue. Other taxes (9%) and charges for services (7%) make up the bulk of the remaining revenue, which is expected to total $92,788,205.

Of the $41.2 million in taxes set to be collected in 2021, the bulk will support community services and public safety. One-third of the taxes will be directed to community services — the county department tasked with adult services, child support, children and family services, community corrections, public health, financial assistance, nutrition support and veteran services. Public safety services — accounting for the sheriff’s office and the county jail — will receive 28% of the collected property taxes.

The remaining taxes collected will be split among the other county departments and spending areas — administrative services (12%), governance services (11%), land services (7%), highway services (5%) and capital projects (4%). Less than 1% will go toward paying off debt, toward which the last major payment was made this year. Remaining debt includes airport bonds and a small portion for the Crosslake highway department facility. The highway department benefits from outside revenue sources, such as state aid and the local option sales tax, more than most other county departments.

Unorganized territories

Also part of the resolution were the levies for the First and Second assessment districts, for which the county board serves as the township board. The 2021 levy in the First Assessment District — otherwise known as Unorganized Territory — is $1,074,355. This is an increase of $96,333, or 9.85%, over 2020. The First Assessment District includes the area north of Baxter and Brainerd, east to Merrifield, extending northward to the Nisswa city limits. It represents the third-largest population center in the county.


In 2017, the county board agreed to increase the Unorganized levy by about 9% each year through at least 2023 to cover road construction costs. This decision came when county officials realized the rate at which residents were taxed was not sufficient to cover those costs after 2020.

The Second Assessment District preliminary levy was originally set at $66,048, which would’ve led to a 77% increase over the previous year. Finance Director Nick Mielke explained in September this was due to a clerical error in 2020, when residents in that district were taxed according to a $36,000 levy instead of $67,000.

The final proposed levy, however, was reduced to $47,450 for 2021.

The Second Assessment District, formerly Dean Lake Township, is located in the east-central portion of the county along the Crow Wing-Aitkin county line.

CHELSEY PERKINS may be reached at 218-855-5874 or . Follow on Twitter at .

Chelsey Perkins is the community editor of the Brainerd Dispatch. A lakes area native, Perkins joined the Dispatch staff in 2014. She is the Crow Wing County government beat reporter and the producer and primary host of the "Brainerd Dispatch Minute" podcast.
Reach her at or at 218-855-5874 and find @DispatchChelsey on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
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