Isanti County eyeing first tax levy hike in 4 years

Isanti County continues to look at a 6.48 percent increase to its property tax levy for 2014 to help offset a $16 million gap from projected dollars going out and coming in next year.

If certified at the next county board meeting, the $16,479,667 levy will mark the first increase in four years. In dollars and cents, the levy is $1,003,221 more than the prior year.

County Administrator Kevin VanHooser presented next year’s proposed budget and tax levy at a truth in taxation hearing Dec. 4 before the county board. He examined what has impacted the budget, among other factors, as the handful of residents in attendance mainly listened without much comment.

A reason for the property tax levy increase is the county can no longer rely on its unreserved fund balance in softening the burden on taxpayers. This has been the trend for the past four years, which explains no levy increases during that stretch of time.

“We tried to keep taxes down due to the bad economy,” Commissioner Susan Morris said.

VanHooser illustrated the impact on local property owners.

Based on proposed 2014 tax levies and rates, a homeowner in Isanti with a home valued at $118,400 pays $1,764 in property taxes. Of that, $612 goes to the county for services.

An Athens Township homeowner with a home valued at $118,400 pays $1,448 in property taxes. Of that, $616 goes to the county for services.

The remaining amount is divided among the school district, city and other tax districts, he noted.

VanHooser did make it clear the meeting would not address the valuation of homes, as the valuation process occurs in the spring and summer at local boards of review for the year’s budget. Market values shown on a resident’s truth in taxation notices are final and not subject of the hearing, he said.

“We’re now getting ready for the 2014 values,” county assessor Michelle Moen noted at the meeting. She said people could have spoken about their valuations last March, though tax court is an option.

In light of 2014 budget factors, VanHooser discussed the decreased expenses involving the library ($12,927), sales tax ($130,000), health insurance costs ($181,005) and capital outlay ($530,771).

In terms of revenue, while the county is taking into account decreased interest income in the amount of $30,000 and a decreased East Central Solid Waste Commission refund of $47,400, county program aid from the state is anticipated to bring $376,832 along with a $63,500 revenue boost from increased building permit and driver’s licenses.

Total revenues and use of fund balance for 2014 has been budgeted at $36,325,424, reflecting an increase of approximately $1 million over last year.

Breaking down where the county’s revenue comes from in a pie chart, VanHooser said taxes and special assessments represent the biggest slice at 45 percent, followed by state aid and grants (28 percent), federal aid and grants (13 percent) and charges, fees and other areas at 14 percent.

Isanti County is a $36 million business, VanHooser put in perspective.

He also broke down the budgeted expenditures for 2014: general government, $6,715,725; public safety, $7,341,996; highways and streets, $6,328,843; human services, $11,553,690; public health, $1,281,373; culture and recreation (library and historical society, for example), $546,597; conservation and natural resources, $200,892; economic development and transit, $1,380,550; and debt service, $975,758.

In addition, funding for community organizations remains frozen at $115,290. Those include the Agricultural Society and Commission on Aging, Humane Society, The Refuge Network, Safe Cab and others.

“All of these organizations asked for more, but (keeping the amounts the same since 2012) was a decision that had to be made,” VanHooser said.

Isanti County Sheriff Bill Guenther said his office has been swamped with gun permit requests, as people have reacted to President Obama and his advocacy of increased gun control. He said his office has 144 yet to do for the year, but it’s a nonstop process with work including background checks.

Building permits are on the rise, too, added county zoning administrator Tim Anderson. Just this year, 32 new houses have been built countywide, and not including city limits. “It’s an upward trend, no doubt,” he said.

The final 2014 budget and levy will be approved at the next county board meeting, which begins at 9 a.m. Wednesday, Dec. 18.

Snowplows get it done

In response to the season’s first major snowfall, county highway engineer Richard Heilman informed the board that county snowplow drivers in nine plows worked a 14-hour day in clearing roads Wednesday.

Some of the major roadways were plowed twice, he said, and they will be back it at 5 a.m. Thursday.

Commissioners voiced their appreciation of the department’s work.