The Crow Wing County Board Tuesday talked with legislators about its needs and how state mandates affect the county. The meeting came days before Monday's opening of the legislative session.
The board met with Sen. Paul Koering, R-Fort Ripley; Rep. Larry Howes, R-Walker; and Rep. Greg Blaine, R-Little Falls.
The county cut about $3.4 million before it finished the 2004 budget and it plans to use money from its reserves this year. The county received less revenue from the state last year and it expects more reductions from the state in 2005.
County Auditor Roy Luukkonen said the county lost 46.2 percent of its state aid for 2004, compared with last year. In 2003, the county received $2.72 million in state aid and this year will receive $1.46 million.
Luukkonen said the county tax levy increased from $19,453,512 in 2003 to $20,804,776 in 2004 -- a 6.9 percent increase.
Luukkonen said the county is growing and the county does not receive any additional revenue from construction because of the way the tax formula is set up for county government.
Howes said there is a simple way to handle the problem to help the county, but said legislators are not in support of it. He said a solution could be that counties could add the property market value and the county tax base and spread it out so the county would receive revenue from new construction.
Howes said, "I'd like to see your levy limits stay the same, but I'm not against adding revenue with new construction."
County Commissioner Ed Larsen asked why Howes wanted the levy limits to stay the same and he responded, "It's a good compromise (between the state and local governments)."
Blaine said Minnesota was not the only state that made changes to local government aid. He said the challenge comes in informing people why and how it was done.
Blaine said state aid went down and Crow Wing County is in more of a pinch than other counties because of its growth.
"What makes you unique is you are on the verge of exploding and you have more people to serve," he said. "You got hit with a double whammy."
County Chair Terry Sluss said the board will be hit hard next year and may have to lay off employees. He asked legislators what the county can do to help boost revenue, such as user fees.
The cost of truth-in-taxation hearings also was discussed. The trend in the county has been only one or two people attending in the past and last year it cost the county $40,000 to hold the public hearing.
Blaine said it's a waste of local money if people do not come, but said the main concern he has is the lack of education by taxpayers. He said most taxpayers do not understand their tax statements or do not want to understand it. He said officials must educate the public and come up with an effective solution.
Larsen said the county needs to do more with less and wanted direction from legislators on how to produce revenue.
"I'm not saying raise taxes," said Larsen.
Koering said, "I'm just trying to make this world a better place than it was. You need to be mindful of those making a living and those who are retired. If taxes go up for retired people they have to cut back something else."
County Highway Engineer Duane Blanck discussed transportation funding and handed the legislators recommendations from the Minnesota County Engineer Association. Blanck said the county needs a long-term increase in transportation funding that will provide more flexibility to address the growing needs on the county state aid and county roads. He said the county would like to see an increase in the state gas tax.
Blanck said the state provides $50 million in funds to support a statewide road safety improvement program. Two-thirds of the fatalities occur on rural, two-lane roads and Blanck said rural counties should receive most of the funds.
Overall Howes said the last legislative session was good because legislators balanced the budget. He said it was a pain, but said "We'll climb out of it. We always do."
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