County board will debate tax levy increase

Published 11:03 pm Friday, September 14, 2018

The Freeborn County Board of Commissioners is expected to debate a 4.8 percent tax levy increase on Tuesday.

Tax impacts on a residential homestead property valued at $100,000 would decrease $13 if the property has the same value as last year, but taxes would increase $50 if the property increased to $110,000 because of a 10 percent average increase in residential home values in Freeborn County. Commercial properties with a $200,000 assessed value would see their taxes reduced by $60 because commercial industrial land values did not increase.

The levy can only decrease before it is set Dec. 18.

Two percent of the increase is for personnel, cost of living and insurance increases. One percent of the increase is expected to be for unknown items and could be eliminated. Nearly 2 percent would be to replace unbudgeted money spent from reserves for the Quorum Health Resources LLC study into the feasibility of a second provider in Albert Lea, Freeborn County Fairgrounds Grandstand construction and demolishing Oakland School.

“If we spent that, we should put it back,” said Administrator Thomas Jensen. He predicted the final levy would be “substantially lower” than the preliminary levy.

Nearly 1 percent of the increase is projected to replenish road and bridge funding reserves.

Jensen said he is aware of double-digit levy increases in other Minnesota counties.

“We’ve done pretty well,” he said.

Jensen said he will recommend commissioners approve the preliminary budget levy at 4.8 percent but will give them the option of approving a 9.3 percent levy to include paving a 2-mile stretch of Freeborn County Road 49 or lower the levy to between 2.5 and 3 percent and not replenish reserves.

Jensen said the county will need money in future reserves for rooftop work at the Freeborn County Government Center.

Jensen noted each county department has presented its budget before the board, something that has not taken place in the last 15 years.   

He said the county has cut $900,000 in expenses since last year. He plans to recommend commissioners spend $400,000 of that to adjust wages to be more competitive in the marketplace, with $200,000 going into the county’s capital fund. He said $100,000 could be used in county negotiations with non-participating landowners for possible expansion if the city decides to build its fire station on Newton Avenue east of the Law Enforcement Center, with $100,000 to create a county IT capital fund with yearly $100,000 funding increases.

District 2 Commissioner Dan Belshan said he does not support the increase because of local business and agriculture setbacks.

“If there ever is a time to hold the line, now is that time,” he said, adding he would not support any tax levy increase this year.

Belshan said budget savings should be given back to taxpayers.

Board Vice Chairman Mike Lee emphasized the 4.8 percent is only a preliminary figure.

“We’re going to do the best we can to keep bringing that number down,” he said.

“What I support in September is not necessarily what I’ll support in December.”

District 4 Commissioner Chris Shoff said he would “probably” support the preliminary levy because commissioners approved projects knowing they would have to levy for them.

He expressed confidence the preliminary levy would be reduced by the time it is set. 

About Sam Wilmes

Sam Wilmes covers crime, courts and government for the Albert Lea Tribune.

email author More by Sam