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Crow Wing County Board: Board certifies flat levy

In an environment where nearly every taxing authority in the Brainerd lakes area is increasing the dollars it intends to collect from property owners, the Crow Wing County Board Tuesday approved a preliminary property tax levy with no increase.

In an environment where nearly every taxing authority in the Brainerd lakes area is increasing the dollars it intends to collect from property owners, the Crow Wing County Board Tuesday approved a preliminary property tax levy with no increase.

This marks the sixth year in a row where taxpayers will not be asked to contribute more to the county coffers, a goal made clear by county commissioners in nearly every aspect of county business.

To accomplish this, county staff were tasked with finding about $1.65 million in reductions, according to a financial forecast prepared by Jason Rausch, budget and accounting analyst.

The levy is preliminary and will require official certification in December, although the board is not allowed by law to increase the total amount it intends to collect from residents.

Tim Houle, county administrator, said a small budget gap - $263,000 - remains, but county staff are working to find more cuts to ensure the $34.4 million levy is achieved. Houle added the board could see a reduction in the levy by the time it's on the agenda for final certification.

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Property tax revenue in 2016 is projected to account for 48 percent of the county's overall revenue, with intergovernmental funding covering 35 percent. The largest portion of levy dollars is spent on public safety, which accounts for 28 percent of the $34.4 million levy. General county government - including administration, human resource, information technology, finances, facilities, the auditor/treasurer and the county attorney - utilizes 24 percent of tax dollars collected. Among the remaining portion, 17 percent supports community services, 15 percent covers debt payments, 10 percent goes to the highway department, 4 percent to land services and the final 2 percent pays for capital projects.

Although the county tax levy itself will not rise next year, this does not necessarily translate to lowered taxes for each individual property owner. The amount owed in property taxes is calculated based upon the value of a given property. This means a property owner who experienced a hike in value will typically be expected to pay a larger slice of the proverbial pie.

This metaphor on a grander scale sheds light on the county tax rate, which is a complicated calculation determined in part by the total estimated market value in the county. When the value rises, as it is expected to for the third straight year after faltering during the recession, it translates to a smaller percentage expected of each individual taxpayer.

In 2016, the estimated market value is expected to approach $10 billion for the first time since 2012. This represents a 3.3 percent increase over 2015, although falls more than $2 billion short of peak value in 2009. New construction activity in the county is expected to increase dramatically, from $73.8 million to nearly $93 million, a 25.8 percent increase. This is the most activity recorded in the county since 2010.

The increased value and construction activity is expected to positively impact the county tax rate, which is set to reduce from 34.7 percent to 33.6 percent next year.

Houle said it took a team effort from all county departments to achieve the county board's stated goal, including the restructuring of the recorder's and auditor-treasurer's offices, the sheriff's willingness to take on additional state prisoners and the staff to monitor them, the county engineer's 5 percent reduction to his budget and the community services director's efforts to keep increasing costs to a minimum.

This coordination of department heads with "the most disciplined county board (Houle's) worked with" makes a difficult task possible, Houle said.

Commissioner Rosemary Franzen made the motion to adopt the preliminary levy and Commissioner Rachel Reabe Nystrom seconded. The board unanimously approved the resolution, which also included the preliminary levies for the First and Second Assessment districts. The county board serves as the township board for these unorganized territories of the county.

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The FAD preliminary levy increased by about $2,300 to $712,668 while the SAD preliminary levy came in at about $4,000 below last year's collection.

CHELSEY PERKINS may be reached at 218-855-5874 or chelsey.perkins@brainerddispatch.com . Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchChelsey .

Chelsey Perkins is the community editor of the Brainerd Dispatch. A lakes area native, Perkins joined the Dispatch staff in 2014. She is the Crow Wing County government beat reporter and the producer and primary host of the "Brainerd Dispatch Minute" podcast.
Reach her at chelsey.perkins@brainerddispatch.com or at 218-855-5874 and find @DispatchChelsey on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
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