Crow Wing County taxpayers will see for the fourth year in a row — a zero percent increase in their property tax levy in 2014.
The Crow Wing County Board voted Tuesday to set its 2014 preliminary tax levy at $34,737,542, the same amount that was set for 2013.
The board may decrease its levy before a final budget is adopted in December, but it cannot go up.
County Administrator Tim Houle said the county board still has a long way to go to get the budget in line for a zero percent increase in the property tax levy. Any ideas the commissioners have to help the county in bringing the budget closer to final approval are welcomed.
The proposed 2014 budget is $72,428,985. The levy and the non-levy revenue would cover most of the expenditures, except an estimated $3.7 million, which will be taken out of the county’s fund balance. This will bring the county’s fund balance to $9,922 in the red.
Mike Carlson, accounting and finance manager, and Jason Rausch, budgeting and accounting analyst, presented the preliminary levy and budget to the commissioner.
The levy presentation showed that the county had a 34.64 percent increase in its property tax levy in 2005, then it dropped to a 11.82 percent increase in 2006; and then slowly dropped in the single digits ever since 2007.
The tax rate in 2013 is 34.342 percent and in 2014 it is proposed to be 35.626 percent. The increase in the tax rate is attributed to the estimated market value decline of 3.61 percent in 2014.
”We are really trying to do our best to be fiscally responsible,” said Commissioner Paul Koering. “So we are not taxing the people to death. ... If you look at our levy in 2005 with a 34 percent levy increase, oh my goodness. If we did that the taxpayer would not be able to afford it.
“Everyone has to be fiscally responsible, the school, the cities of Brainerd, Baxter because it all plays into it (what everyone’s taxes will be).”
Carlson said Crow Wing County’s 2013 tax rate was ranked No. 9 as the lowest tax rate of all the 87 Minnesota counties.
Even with a zero percent increase in the property tax levy, Commissioners Paul Thiede and Koering asked if some homeowners would still see an increase in their 2014 taxes.
Houle said some property owners would see an increase in their taxes because of the way the market value of all the properties in the county would be distributed. Houle said taxes are distributed by several factors which include the tax class a homeowner is in, such as agricultural or commercial, and on all the properties market value.
Two of the largest funds where the expenditures increased the most was in capital projects, with a 27.56 percent increase and in the highway department, with a 32.05 percent increase.
Carlson said a bulk of the Highway expenditures is for making improvements to a six-mile stretch of Crow Wing County Road 3 from Crosslake to Fifty Lakes. Cost of the project is $3.5 million.
The increase in the capital projects was due to the $1.8 million capital improvement plan.
Carlson said in 2012, capital outlays increased to reflect the 800 MHz public safety radio system and the $11 million land purchase for the Mississippi Northwoods project. In 2013, the county refinanced its building construction debt and infused an additional $5 million in cash reserves to reduce the term by five years and save an estimated $5 million on the interest costs.
The 2014 budget and levy meeting is set for 6 p.m. Nov. 26.