County proposes levy hike of 11.6 percentDouglas County commissioners approved Friday the county’s 2009 preliminary tax levy of $22.77 million. A $2.37 million jump over this year’s levy, if it holds it would be the largest county tax increase in five years.
By: Mike Enright, Alexandria Echo Press
Douglas County commissioners approved Friday the county’s 2009 preliminary tax levy of $22.77 million.
A $2.37 million jump over this year’s levy, if it holds it would be the largest county tax increase in five years.
As a preliminary levy, the 11.6 percent hike – nearly twice the rate of neighboring counties – locks in the maximum amount the county can raise taxes next year.
That figure could come down between now and December, when the county board will be required to submit its final levy amount to the state.
Historically, preliminary levies have been higher than the final ones approved.
“It’s a work in progress,” Commissioner Chair Dan Olson said about the levy. “They always are.”
But with so many things on the county’s plate for next year, Olson said it’s hard to say whether the final levy will get much lower.
Tom Reddick, county auditor/treasurer, said declining state funding, rising energy and fuel costs and large building projects, such as the new jail and public works facilities, all add in to the proposed levy increase.
“Last year, we reduced [the preliminary levy] significantly,” he said. “This year, we won’t be able to see that kind of reduction because it’s just not there.”
Reddick said it’s too early to tell how much the levy will raise property taxes.
The sheriff’s department will see the biggest chunk of the proposed $2.4 million increase, at roughly $714,000.
Most of the money will go toward:
· A 2 percent raise for 80 employees.
· Upgrading a 10-year-old computer software program for the jail.
· A higher fuel budget.
· Bulletproof vests.
· A two-person jail-transition team, as required by the state department of corrections.
“If you took out all those big things, my budget increase is about $62,000,” said Troy Wolbersen, Douglas County sheriff.
The county is also adding more than $484,000 in new debt.
After a $20,000 bump from 2007 to 2008, $400,000 of the 2009 levy increase will go to the county’s social services department.
Director Mike Woods said higher revenues helped cover most costs this year, but that’s unlikely in 2009.
“Given the fact that the state has cut back their revenue [projections], it would be tough for me to guess that we’re going to get more money,” he said.
In addition to covering a 2 percent raise for about 70 employees, Woods said the department needs to make up for roughly a $160,000 decrease in state funding, as well as less federal government money, while maintaining services.
A poster child for dwindling state aid, district court services will get an extra $100,000 from Douglas County in its 2009 levy to pay for public defenders to represent parents in child protection cases.
The Minnesota Board of Public Defense previously provided the service, until state budget cuts forced the agency to pass the costs on to counties.
After recently solidifying their plans for replacing the defunct downtown jail, county commissioners decided last week how to pay for the new jail and public works facilities, and eventual law enforcement center.
The county will finance the roughly $30 million project through a 20-year “wraparound” loan, at an ultimate cost of $70.76 million.
Put together by bond sales and financial advisory firm Ehlers and Associates, Inc., the county will make interest-only payments on the jail and law enforcement center pieces for the first five years, lowering initial property tax increases but raising overall interest rates for the life of the loan.
Carolyn Drude, executive vice president of Ehlers, said a benefit of the plan is that as the community grows and new people move in, those new arrivals will help pay for the project, thus limiting the tax burden on current residents.
Under the plan, homeowners will see their property taxes rise next year anywhere from $39 to $196, depending on how much their house is worth.
For a $150,000 house, that means an additional $59.
Commercial, agricultural and seasonal/recreation properties will all experience similar hikes.
Taxes for a $500,000 business will jump $363, and they will increase $108 on an agricultural homestead worth $400,000.
Non-homestead agricultural landowners will pay per acre, and property taxes for a $300,000 seasonal residence will raise $118.