County board approves preliminary 3% levy increase

The Freeborn County Board of Commissioners voted 4-1 Tuesday to approve a preliminary 3% tax levy increase for 2021.

The official levy will be approved in December. At that time, the commissioners can choose to lower the levy but cannot raise it higher than what was set for the preliminary levy.

Freeborn County Administrator Tom Jensen said county administration recommended the 3% because of several unknowns, including health insurance and other uncertainties related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

For a $200,000 home, the increase in the levy would equate to about $7 a month. If a 2 1/2% tax levy increase is approved that equates to about $5.80 a month, and a 2% levy increase  would equal about $4.60 a month.

He said the county is set to operate in 2021 the same as it did in 2020, and nothing nonessential will be approved for the budget.

“I think we’ll have a lot more information come the first of December on the economic factors,” he said, noting that by that time the second half of property taxes will be in. “It’s difficult to not have that crystal ball.”

He said he considers himself to be conservative but he wants the county to have money in the bank if an emergency arises. He noted the county had to take about $2 million out of its capital reserve funds for a FEMA event and for funds that were short from the Immigration and Customs Enforcement contract, and as long as nothing else bad happens, that 3% increase could be used to rebuild the reserves by $900,000.

Fifth District Commissioner Mike Lee said he can support the preliminary increase at this time, but didn’t know if he could support it in December. He said he wants to see the unemployment in November and where the county is with the pandemic.

First District Commissioner Glen Mathiason said he supported it at this time simply because there were many unknowns.

Second District Commissioner Dan Belshan was the sole vote against.