Cook County Connections: The County Budget Process - Final Steps
Dec 27, 2019 02:52PM
● By Editor
Braidy Powers: Photo: Cook County
By Auditor-Treasurer Braidy Powers from Cook County MN Government - January 27, 2019
The county follows a series of steps in approving a budget and levy each year. The last legally required step, a public hearing, took place on December 5. The meeting, known as Truth in Taxation or TNT, was held in the commissioners’ room at the courthouse beginning at 6:00 p.m.
Commissioner Bursheim opened the meeting by describing the legal basis for the meeting, including the requirement that a county’s final levy not exceed its proposed levy. (The final levy may be lower than the initial levy set in September.)
Bursheim provided history on the county’s budget advisory committee. The committee was created in 2018 to include one citizen representative from each of the five commissioner districts. With one citizen representative position vacant, the eight members of the advisory committee, at a meeting on September 16, reached majority consensus to recommend a 6.05 percent proposed levy increase to the county board.
Bursheim also described the process for the public meeting: a presentation from the county auditor-treasurer, followed by public comments with a limit of five minutes each, and then thoughts and reflections from the county board.
The auditor-treasurer presentation discussed some of the advantages and disadvantages of the local property tax system, including how the timing of setting budgets and levies contrasts with the public meetings for review of taxpayer property values and classifications: the tax system requires that property value and class changes precede the setting of the following year’s budget and levy. The presentation included pointers to help make sense of the proposed tax notices mailed to taxpayers prior to the TNT meeting. The auditor-treasurer also shared a spreadsheet showing the levies of all county taxing authorities, including the school, city and hospital, that are collected and distributed by the county.
The auditor-treasurer’s primary message, however, was the effect of the change in classification of some properties that led to an overall increase in property valuation and to a reduced impact to homestead properties. The county assessor, following MN Department of Revenue guidelines, determined that many properties with a seasonal recreation classification better fit a residential non-homestead classification. The new classification, put into effect for 2020 taxes, was the main reason for a 7.2 percent overall increase in county valuation and a significant shift in taxes. The auditor-treasurer shared a chart showing the 7.2 percent increase in valuation, the proposed 6.05 percent increase in county levy, and a resulting net decrease in county taxes of 1 percent to homesteads.
Tempering the favorable news for homesteads was the pending cut to federal payments to the county. The proposed $750,000 annual cut to the Thye-Blatnik payment is not finalized yet but could impact county levies for the next 10 years if the cut is approved without changes.
Six members of the public then spoke to a range of issues, from changes in property valuations to the money leaving the county due to the Iron Range fiscal disparities program. Some asked the county board to look hard at finding efficiencies. A few spoke of the difficulty for those on fixed or limited incomes in keeping up with levy increases that exceed the cost of living.
County board members expressed understanding of the difficult situation for taxpayers and the challenge of balancing that with taking care of deteriorating buildings and dealing with cuts to federal aid. Bursheim thanked the public for expressing themselves in a positive way and reminded them to take advantage of the state refund program.
On Tuesday, December 17, the county board convened for the last regularly scheduled meeting of the year. The agenda included the approval of a final budget and levy for 2020. The packet contained a summary of the proposed budget with a levy increase of 6.05 percent as set in September.
The auditor-treasurer brought an updated budget containing adjustments to the planning and zoning and arts budgets that reduced the levy increase to 5.89 percent. Board members discussed building maintenance and improvement needs as well as planning for future federal aid cuts. Following that, the board voted unanimously to set the 2020 levy at $10,367,293, a 5.89 percent increase over 2019.
Setting the annual budget and levy is an arduous task, and Cook County thanks all who participated in this process. With the public’s input, we can and will continue to improve our processes and outcomes.
Additional information on the budget process is available under Doing Business/Budget at https://co.cook.mn.us.
Note: As of this writing Congressman Pete Stauber has announced that the United State Forest Service has agreed to reappraise the BWCA lands. The announcement further states that while the reappraisal is taking place the USFS will continue to make the Thye-Blatnik payments for BWCA lands based on the 2008 appraised value. This welcome action would rescind the approximately $750,000 cut to Cook County’s PILT funding for at least one or two years and may re-open budget discussions.
County Connections is a column on timely topics and service information from your Cook County government. Cook County – Supporting Community Through Quality Public Service