County tax hearing reviews proposed budget, levy increase

By: 
Gretchen Mensink Lovejoy

Fillmore County’s commissioners and administrator held the annual Truth-in-Taxation hearing Tuesday evening, Dec. 3, at the courthouse in Preston, highlighting the county’s goals and financial standing.

The purpose of the meeting was to outline the proposed final 2020 budget. The final 2020 budget and property tax levy, which is proposed for a 3.49 percent increase, will be presented for the board’s consideration during the Tuesday, Dec. 17, regular board meeting.

The board opened the meeting by taking note of those in attendance and clarifying for them that property tax adjustments, for which some of the attendees had come to register their requests, should be brought before the Board of Appeal and Equalization hearing in the spring. Board chairman Duane Bakke and county administrator Bobbie Vickerman pointed anyone with concerns about their taxes toward the assistance of county property appraisers on hand for just such business, while acknowledging that the meeting notice enclosed with property tax statements might have led some to mistakenly believe that the December hearing included appeals on the agenda.

The people in attendance were there for those types of requests as none of them offered input during the tax hearing. However, the county officials invited anyone who wanted to have the appraisers examine their taxes to remain in the hearing to learn more about the county’s budget and property tax levy proposal. Bakke offered that by doing so, even though most were more concerned with their individual property tax matters, they could see how the county has allocated funding and register their disapproval or approval so that if the board can legally make fitting changes, it knows to do so to better suit county residents’ needs.

Vickerman introduced herself and listed the board’s membership – Bakke, of District 4, Vice Chairperson Marc Prestby, of District 5, Randy Dahl of District 2, Mitch Lentz of District 1, and Larry Hindt, newly elected to District 3. The agenda involved a review of the 2019 county operations, performance measures for 2019, 2020 goals and objectives, preliminary expenditures and trends, preliminary revenues, the 2020 per capita comparison with the 2019 per capita expenditures and a budget and levy summarization for 2020.

A review of 2019 performance measures cited redesign in three specific areas – governance, for which there was “active participation in legislative priorities, with board members, elected and appointed department heads serving in leadership roles in their respective organizations,” transparency, for which there is “citizens’ input during each board meeting,” and flexibility, for which the board and staff “started the process of updating the county website for easier use and better visibility to the public, and for Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliance.”

Performance goals included reducing the total number of accidents that occur on county state aid highways (CSAH), county roads and unorganized township roads that involve fatalities and injury from the prior year, maintaining pavement quality on county roads, reducing tobacco use among adults to the national benchmark, maintaining the county’s notable child support program cost effectiveness in recovering child support from those who owe it, reducing the percentage of low birth-weight births, meeting the 10-day turnaround time for document recording, and attempting to keep the debt service levy under 10 percent, among other goals.

For 2020, in governance, the county aspires to maintain or build its fund balance. In transparency efforts, plans are in place to “implement bi-monthly finance committee meetings and ensure timely audit responses,” as well as “continue providing the public budget process,” and for flexibility, the board plans to “continue exploration of collaborative efforts, internally and with other counties and local governments.” Additional goals were cited on the 2020 list.

An expenditure trend comparison outlined that in 2019, the county was set to close out the year having spent $27,931,194, and in 2020, is projected to spend $32,872,530. A balanced budget is one of the county’s goals, and therefore, revenues for 2020 stand with the same figures as expenditures. A per capita expenditure comparison related that the county had a 2019 levy of $10,819,093 and spent $518.50 on each person living in Fillmore County, while the coming year is estimated to have a property tax levy of $11,196,215 and a per capita expenditure of $536.58 – providing general governance, library, social services, roads and bridges, sanitation, a county airport and more for the well-being of its residents. The 2020 preliminary property tax levy was set to increase by 3.49 percent.

The summary included that the county has a 2020 increase of $47,835 in County Program Aid (CPA), a 2.5 percent proposed cost of living adjustment (COLA) raise for its employees and a proposed 3.49 percent increase in its property tax levy – with a directive from the board to hold the fund balance steady or build up the fund balance to reach state recommendations of 50 percent of annual operations costs. It also notes that the county review each position as it becomes vacant, that state aid dollars are all included in the county’s general fund, including office supplies, copy machines, retirement funds and other supplies such as cleaning supplies, and that the county is in its second full year of operating under complete managed information technology systems and replacement of phone systems. The county also aspires to round out its full year of finance department operations, is seeking a county assessor to lead the assessor’s department under new state regulations, and is continuing to train staff and encourage development and future opportunities.

The Dec. 17 meeting when the levy will become final begins at 9 a.m. in the lower level of the Fillmore County courthouse in Preston’s town square. Each meeting includes a citizens’ input time at 9:30 a.m., but Vickerman included her contact information for those who are unable to attend a board meeting or have questions they would like to have answered on other days of the week. To reach her, call 507-765-4566 or email bvickerman@co.fillmore.mn.us.