County coalition hoping for tax reform, funding

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 24, 2001

Counties need to see more state funding of mandated programs, and sufficient allocations to state budgets for already funded services, according to the Association of Minnesota Counties (AMC).

Wednesday, January 24, 2001

Counties need to see more state funding of mandated programs, and sufficient allocations to state budgets for already funded services, according to the Association of Minnesota Counties (AMC).

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The AMC presented its 2001 legislative priorities at the last meeting of the Freeborn County Board of Commissioners.

Property tax reform is the most pressing issue this session, according to the AMC. Tax laws have gotten cumbersome and complicated, they say.

&uot;There are over 6,000 unique taxing jurisdictions in Minnesota,&uot; said an AMC fact sheet. &uot;The overlapping boundaries of Minnesota’s 87 counties, 854 cities, 1,794 townships, 349 school districts, and 406 special taxing districts create a challenging situation.&uot;

The number of taxing districts should be reduced to simplify the system, the AMC said.

Gov. Jesse Ventura is now developing tax reform proposals to simplify the laws and redistribute the tax.

&uot;We expect to see double-digit decreases in all property types,&uot; said AMC Policy Analyst Kevin Corbid.

A tiered classification system should recognize the benefits of home ownership, small businesses and family farms, the AMC said. To relieve individual taxpayers, a basic education levy should be imposed, and alternative revenue sources sought to reduce counties’ reliance on property taxes.

Adequate funding for county probation services and state funding of out-of-home placements for children should be addressed this session, Corbid said.

The state is supposed to pay half of counties’ probation officer costs, but reimbursement has been declining since 1997, Corbid said. Now, the state is only reimbursing around 44.5 percent because the account is underfunded. Additional probation officers should also be funded to adequately deal with increasing case loads, according to the AMC.

In addition, the AMC would like Ventura to follow through on comments made in his state of the state address, in which he said the state could pay a larger share of out-of-home placement costs for children.

Minnesota counties pay two-thirds of the $225 million per year spent on out-of-home placements statewide, with help from some federal funding. Most states take the majority of that financial burden, Corbid said.

Last year in Freeborn County, out-of-home placement costs exceeded the budgeted amount, said Darryl Meyer, director of the Freeborn County Department of Human Services.

&uot;The out-of-home placement budget in rural counties is really going up very fast,&uot; Corbid said.

Other social issues on the AMC’s legislative priorities list include: setting up state safety nets for the 5,200 Minnesota families who will reach their 60 month lifetime Temporary Assistance for Needy Families limit in July 2002; coordinating services for the elderly; and increasing funding for family health services.

The AMC’s top transportation funding priority is to constitutionally rededicate highway user tax distribution funds lost as a result of license tab fee reductions.

With lower tab fees, counties are no longer guaranteed a certain level of funding for highway projects, according to the AMC.

&uot;This impedes county ability to do the necessary long-term planning that is required by the state and federal government,&uot; said an AMC fact sheet on the issue.

The AMC also listed full funding of the local bridge replacement program; local road wetland replacement funding; and solid waste management funding as legislative priorities.

Public Employee Retirement Association (PERA) is another important issue this session, Corbid said.

A $1 billion deficiency in the plan is due to a number of causes, he said.

People are entering PERA employment at a much older age, shortening time until they collect on the account, he said. Fewer people leaving employment are cashing in their accounts than expected, and longer life spans mean more payments for retirees.

The AMC supports solutions to the shortfall that don’t place the entire burden of payment on current employees, and phase payments in after Jan. 1, 2002, to allow counties to budget accordingly.

The AMC is a voluntary state-wide organization of Minnesota Counties which strives to provide effective county governance to the people of Minnesota. All 87 Minnesota counties are members.