Residents can have their say at truth in taxation meetings
By Terry Lehrke, News Editor
Between now and the end of December, cities, school districts and the county will hold public hearings known as Truth in Taxation meetings.
While many cities, school districts and townships kept 2014 preliminary property tax levies the same or lower than 2013, several showed increases, as did the county.
Cities learned that the DFL-controlled legislature increased local government aid (LGA) in nearly every case locally. The final levies will be set after the hearings.
Township boards set budgets and levies in March, before knowing how much state aid would be.
Roman Witucki, supervisor in Pike Creek Township, where the proposed levy is up $34,600, said the township hadn’t raised its budget in the past four years.
“When we based our budget it was on $143,000 and we had ‘X’-amount of LGA over the years — that used to go right to the county,” he said.
Witucki said the township’s state aid was cut off completely in 2013. “But then the state legislature put that back into effect and we already had our levy set in March,” he said.
State money for the township comes from three sources: property taxes, LGA and the gas tax, Witucki said. Gas tax dollars are used to maintain roads.
Unexpected costs for the township in 2013 included $10,000 for culverts.
“The flood rotted them out sooner than we expected,” Witucki said.
In Scandia Valley Township, the increase in the levy is $175,000, a 39 percent increase for 2014.
That, said Clerk Kathie Headley, is because next year the township is planning to rebuild more than two miles of road between Crookneck and Lake Shamineau.
Although the state reinstated aid to the township, Headley said, “It was not a real substantial amount. … We used to get local government aid and in 2000, they dropped it for townships. Cities still received it.”
Headley said the road work alone will cost more than $300,000. “That particular road also requires a substantial rebuild, not just resurfacing,” she said.
Seven of the area’s 16 cities increased preliminary levies.
In Flensburg, the 2014 levy is $48,000 up from $38,000 in 2013. The city will receive an increase of $6,735 in its LGA, to $27,322 in 2014.
Flensburg City Clerk Margurite Cofell said the increase is due to road work.
“We have about 17 miles of road in our town,” she said. “It’s one of the largest cities in the state of Minnesota, when you look at the population compared to land. Our roads are a huge expense to the city.”
She said the goal is usually to do three miles of road each year, which costs about $1,500.
“The increase is to try to get caught up so we can continue to maintain; it costs even more because they were not maintained,” she said.
In every school district except Royalton, the tax levy decreased. Most had operating referendums in place or recently passed. Royalton did not.
For those school districts without a voter-approved referendum, the state legislature gave local school boards the authority to convert up to $300 per adjusted pupil unit from a voter-approved referendum authority to a Board-approved referendum authority.
“Our Board decided to take advantage of that,” said Royalton Business Manager Mary Plante. “That’s where the increase comes in.”
Referendum votes failed in the past two years, and Royalton hasn’t had a voter-approved referendum in the past 10 years.
The Morrison County Commissioners voted for a 2.3 percent levy increase, from $16.222 million in 2013 to $16.6 in 2014.
The certified County Program Aid from the state in 2013 was $1.315 million and in 2014, the county will receive $1.611 million, an increase of $296,298. “But that doesn’t quite make up for the $1.2 million of aid lost during 2008-2010,” said Steve Messerschmidt, finance/risk director for Morrison County.
“Many factors are driving the proposed levy increase including salary costs, health insurance costs, equipment and energy,” said County Administrator Deb Gruber.
The county’s levy has remained relatively stable since 2008, she said.
Employee health insurance costs have increased substantially, she said. “With the implementation of the Affordable Health Care Act, these costs have the potential to continue to rise,” she said.
Staffing has been reduced and the county negotiated multi-year zero cost of living adjustment contracts with employees, she said.
“It is never popular to increase taxes. … As difficult as it can be, sometimes it’s necessary in order to maintain financial health given all of the factors presented,” she said.
Rep. Ron Kresha, R-Little Falls, said the DFL-controlled state legislature made a promise that property taxes would decrease because of increased aid to cities, counties, townships and school districts.
Kresha said, “LGA was sent out to cities and counties with the hopes that they would use that to lower property taxes, but the reality is, it’s really up to the school boards, county commissioners and city councils to reduce them.”
“I can say your property taxes will go down because we raised LGA, but if the county says, ‘Wait a minute — we need that for something else,’ who becomes the liar?” he said.
“We raised $2.1 billion in taxes to pay for this,” Kresha said, pointing to the cigarette tax, warehouse tax, information technology tax and farmers repair tax.
“It may have come off your property taxes, but you are paying for it in other areas,” he said.
Dates and locations for those entities that require a Truth-in-Taxation meeting, are as follows:
- Monday, Dec. 2 — City of Little Falls, 7:30 p.m., City Hall, Council Chambers.
- Tuesday, Dec. 3 — City of Royalton, 7:15 p.m., Royalton City Hall.
- Monday, Dec. 9 — City of Pierz, 7 p.m., City Hall.
- Tuesday, Dec. 10 — City of Motley, 6:10 p.m., Motley City Hall; and Swanville School District, 7 p.m., High School library.
- Monday, Dec. 16 — Staples Motley School District, 7 p.m., Motley School media center.; Pillager School District, 7 p.m, Pillager School; Royalton School District, 6 p.m., High School media center and Little Falls School District, 6 p.m, Morrison County Government Center, County Board Room.
- Wednesday, Dec. 18 — Pierz School District, 6:15 p.m., High School media center; City of Randall, 6:30 p.m., Randall Fire Hall and Upsala School District, 7 p.m., High School media center.