ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

Crow Wing County Board: Levy lowered for 6th straight year

The vote taken by the Crow Wing County Board Tuesday night lowering the property tax levy appears unprecedented in Minnesota state history, according to the county administrator.

The vote taken by the Crow Wing County Board Tuesday night lowering the property tax levy appears unprecedented in Minnesota state history, according to the county administrator.

"I can't find any other circumstance in Minnesota history where a county has done that six years in a row," Tim Houle, county administrator, said.

The special meeting Tuesday night served as an opportunity for the public to weigh in on the county's 2016 budget, tax levy and capital improvement plan. About 20 county residents showed up for the hearing, five of which left to speak with property valuation staff after Chairman Paul Koering explained the purpose of the meeting was not to discuss individual valuation questions.

This marks the sixth consecutive year in which the county board has certified a tax levy with a reduction. In September, the board approved a preliminary levy with no increase, although the finalized levy will decrease by .11 percent over last year. This means the county intends to collect nearly $38,000 less in tax dollars compared to what it collected for 2015, the lowest amount it's collected since 2008.

The largest portion of levy dollars will be spent on public safety, which accounts for 28 percent of the $34.4 million levy. General county government-including administration, human resources, information technology, finances, facilities and the county attorney's office-will utilize 23 percent of tax dollars collected. Among the remaining portion, 17 percent will support community services, 15 percent will cover debt payments, 10 percent will go to the highway department, 4 percent to land services and the final 3 percent will pay for capital projects.

ADVERTISEMENT

Compared to last year, the portion of the property tax levy funding community services will rise by 4.93 percent and for capital projects, levy dollars will increase by 19.15 percent. The largest decrease in levy dollars will be in the highway department, which reduced its levy portion by 5.45 percent.

Although the county's levy is set to decrease overall, this will not necessarily translate to lowered taxes for county residents. There are several other factors-including the value of one's property and the levies set by other taxing authorities, such as the city and school district in which a resident lives-that affect property taxes.

In Crosslake, for example, an owner of a seasonal recreational property of average value-$376,500-paid $1,304 in county taxes in 2015. With no change in value, the owner will pay $42 less in county taxes in 2016. The owner of a commercial/industrial property in Baxter valued at $1,063,100 paid $7,101 in 2015, but will pay $229 less in 2016 with the same value. In Brainerd, the owner of a residential homestead property valued at $101,200 paid $247 to the county in 2015 and will save $8 in 2016.

Commissioner Paul Thiede noted if the county board had continued the rate of levy increase between 2005 and 2015 the same as the previous decade, the tax levy would be $61 million today. Instead, at a reduction, Crow Wing County will likely have the second lowest levy increase among 87 counties in the state and ranks second in lowest tax levy per capita among area counties-Cass, Aitkin, Mille Lacs and Morrison.

Residents urge foresight

Two members of the public took to the microphone to encourage the county board to consider increasing spending to avoid potentially bigger problems in the future.

Rosanne Caughey of Fort Ripley said she appreciated the frugality of the board but had concerns about whether ongoing maintenance was being properly addressed.

"You have to have foresight that if you keep cutting back, cutting back, it's going to catch up to you sometime," Caughey said. "I'm glad you guys are frugal with the money and everything, but you also have to not put on the blinders and miss opportunities that are going to come back and bite you."

ADVERTISEMENT

Cathy Gray of Brainerd urged the board to invest in the public library and other assets, such as trails, that she said add value to living in Crow Wing County.

"I appreciate keeping my taxes reasonable, but at the same time, we have to be investing in our county if we want people to live here and live healthy here," Gray said.

Gray also expressed support for a countywide half-cent sales tax to fund highway maintenance and improvements, an idea the board is currently considering. Gray said it made more sense to her to tax visitors who also use the roads instead of only permanent residents.

"If we want to turn money back to our taxpayers, repairing our roads so we don't end up repairing our cars would be a wonderful thing," Gray said.

Charlie Makidon of Backus, who approached the microphone on two separate occasions, urged the board not to implement a sales tax. Makidon said he would prefer a levy increase to a sales tax.

Figures previously presented by County Engineer Tim Bray show a 12 percent increase in the overall county property tax levy would be necessary to raise the funds needed to eliminate maintenance deferments on the county highway and bridge system.

"Please do not stoop to the lows of a sales tax," Makidon said. "Find a different way to get the money."

Board approves county, unorganized territory budgets

ADVERTISEMENT

The 2016 budget approved by the county board has the county expending $78,527,145. Of this total, $39,847,026 will be supported by revenues and $34,426,999 by levy dollars. Another $4,253,120 will be spent from the county's fund balance. Most of the money from the spend down of the fund balance-$3.5 million-will go toward the highway department budget.

The county board also acts as the township board for the First and Second assessment districts, also known as the unorganized territories, and sets the property tax levies for those as well.

The First Assessment District includes the area north of Brainerd and Baxter, stretching from Woida Road north to Cinosam Road and east from the Crow Wing/Cass county line to Merrifield. About 5,500 people live in this area, making it the third largest population center in the county behind Brainerd and Baxter.

The tax levy for the First Assessment District will be $712,668, covering less than half of the unorganized territory's $1,547,246 budget. The budget will also be supported by $252,690 in revenues and $581,888 spent from the fund balance.

The Second Assessment District, previously Dean Lake Township, has about 100 residents and is located between Emily and Crosby. The tax levy for these residents will be $64,999. Planned expenditures are $41,999, but the tax levy combined with $4,000 in revenues will increase the fund balance by $27,000.

CHELSEY PERKINS may be reached at 218-855-5874 or chelsey.perkins@brainerddispatch.com . Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchChelsey .

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 chelsey.perkins@brainerddispatch.com or at 218-855-5874 and find @DispatchChelsey on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
What To Read Next
Inmates in-custody in the Todd County jail in Long Prairie, Minnesota
Inmates in-custody in the Wadena County jail in Wadena, Minnesota
Inmates in-custody in the Aitkin County jail in Aitkin, Minnesota
Inmates in-custody in the Beltrami County jail in Bemidji, Minnesota