Editorial: What can be done to lower the levies for next year?

Published 9:34 pm Wednesday, September 25, 2019

We cringed like the rest of the community when we heard the preliminary levy increases passed by the city of Albert Lea, the Freeborn County Board of Commissioners and the Albert Lea school board over the last two weeks.

Albert Lea passed a preliminary overall levy increase of 5.56%, Freeborn County passed a preliminary levy increase of 5.9% and the Albert Lea school board passed an preliminary increase of 3.8%.

While that increase right off the bat sounds like significant tax increases could be coming for area residents if the final levies are approved at the same level in December, the reality is it’s much more complicated.

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Mixed in with the preliminary increases is the fact that the tax capacity has increased. That means market values have increased for many throughout the county, particularly residential properties. If you were to turn around and sell your home, you could get a higher amount off of it than you would have last year. With that increased value comes pros and cons. 

City and school district leaders on Monday both expressed that if you had a $100,000 home and its value stayed the same in 2019, your taxes would actually go down next year under the proposals. However, if your property value increased, you could likely see an increase — simply because the value of the property improved and thus the taxes would correlate with that increased value. That’s the Catch 22 of having increases in property value.

Regardless of these factors, we ask local government entities to take a hard look at their budgets for 2020. Consider each line item closely, and tighten your belts when possible just as residents and business owners have to do to meet their budgets.

For many of these organizations, personnel costs are the largest of their budget costs, which makes it even more difficult to lower, unless you’re going to reduce staffing.

While we agree that compensating employees fairly is critical to retaining good-working staff, can more be done to reduce costs with health insurance or other benefits?

While we doubt bringing the percent increases down to zero will be possible, we believe more can be done to reduce the levies before the final vote comes in December. We look forward to seeing the continued discussions in the coming months at the city, county and school district level.