By Greg Hunt
September is preliminary budget time for government entities as they prepare for the coming year’s financial direction. Faced with cuts from state aid, along with a new property tax relief formula, the Isanti County Board began with a raised levy for 2012.
The budget discussion at the Sept. 6 regular board meeting began by projecting a 3.85 percent levy increase, but after several minutes of debate, Chair Larry Southerland made a motion to go with a 2 percent preliminary levy. The motion passed by a 3-2 vote, with Commissioners Alan Duff and Mike Warring voting against since they favored a 0 percent preliminary levy.
“The preliminary budget is a work in progress. We can use reserves where plausible. I’m not sure where we can cut anymore,” spoke Southerland during the motion.
Commissioner George Larson reminded those in attendance that an approved preliminary levy can not be increased but it still can be decreased prior to approving the final 2012 budget.
“We are getting more demand on us the way the economy is going,” said Larson. “I’ve been on this board for 19 years, and we never had a year like this. We’ve really cut the fat out of programs. I don’t think county employees should take all of this (the state cuts) on their backs.”
The county’s budget is looking at roughly $700,000 less in state aid for 2012. An additional $300,000 will be eliminated by the state opting to not house state prisoners in the Isanti County Jail next year.
“So $1,000,000 has been eliminated out of our budget, and we have to make that up. But we are dealing with less zoning and building permits because of the economy,” furthered Larson. “We’ve worked and scrounged and looked, and we’re still $595,000 short.”
The county had a 0 percent levy in 2010 and a 1.7 percent levy for 2011.
“There’s a reason we’re the fifth lowest in tax rate among all Minnesota counties. It’s a credit to the board that we’re running as lean and mean as possible,” said Commissioner Susan Morris. “Isanti County is a very frugal county.”
Switch to Market Value Exclusion
Terry Treichel and Angie Larson of the county’s Auditor/Treasurer office walked the board through the state’s switch from the Market Value Home Credit Aid Program to the new Market Value Exclusion Program which goes into effect in 2012.
Property tax relief will now be delivered by excluding a portion of each qualifying home’s market value from taxation. Homes up to $76,000 in total market value receive the maximum exclusion. The amount of exclusion decreases as home value grows until the exclusion is fully phased-out for homes valued at over $413,800.
Auditor Treichel explained that the good news with this program is that it takes out the inconsistent state reimbursements from the MVHC program, offering more consistent levy determination. It also provides a small cash flow benefit to the county.
The bad news, he continued, is that as the county’s already small tax base shrinks, tax rates will rise. City and school taxes will shift, as well.
Truth in Taxation hearing
The 2012 Truth in Taxation hearing is set for 7:00 p.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 7, at the Government Center Boardroom. The regular board meeting will begin at 6 p.m., with the Truth in Taxation hearing to follow.
Anderson Park event Sept. 27
County Parks Director Barry Wendorf invited the board and the general public to an open house at the Irving & John Anderson Family Park on Saturday, Sept. 27, hosted in conjunction with the Friends of Anderson Park group. A volunteer work session begins in the morning, followed by a live amphibian & reptile program from 10:30-11:30 a.m. Tractor wagon rides will give tours of the park located off Co. Rd. 18 in the southeastern corner of the county. Free pie and ice cream will be served from 11:30-12:30 p.m.
In addition, Wendorf received approval from the board to pursue a Legacy Grant for projects at Springvale County Park, including extending the paved trail one mile, constructing an interpretative shelter and developing a nine-hole disc golf course. If awarded, the Legacy Grant would cover 89 percent of the $190,000 projected costs, with the additional 11 percent coming from the Park’s 2012 “Special Project” budget line and the Park’s Reserve Fund.
Next meeting: Wednesday, Sept. 21, 9 a.m.