Polk County Commissioner Warren Strandell released another county line column today. It can be found below-

Budgeting takes little work.

While it doesn’t look like it’s time to start developing next year’s operating budget, that effort is already underway.

At a recent county board meeting — one day six months before the start of the 2023 fiscal year — a mutually agreed goal was to limit the next county levy increase to 3 percent … with the levy being the amount of property tax needed to meet the to pay for circuit operations.

Remember that your total tax bill also includes business taxes for cities, school districts, municipalities, watersheds, etc. The county is not involved in setting the levies/budgets of these other government agencies. It’s just the county we’re talking about with the 3 percent target.

The 3 percent figure does not mean that the county portion of your bill would increase by 3 percent for 2023. Any change – due to county operations – will be less due to the taxes paid by properties coming onto the list for the first time (new construction). This new rating reduces the bill. Polk County added about $25 million worth of this new appraisal each year.

Everything works

The cost of just about everything is rising and the 3 percent mark is expected to coincide closely with the rate of inflation.

In Polk County, the levy required to maintain services, buildings, roads, bridges, etc. and our very capable and dedicated staff has increased approximately 3 percent for each of the last 13 years.

When the levy increase for 2022 had to be set at 3.5 percent, several construction issues were involved. That was one of the few exceptions. The average tax increase since 2009 is 2.76 percent. The highest rate of increase was 3.74 percent in 2009 and the lowest was 1.32 percent in the following year, 2010.

When trying to control taxes, there is always a temptation to postpone needs and projects rather than address them as needed.

Delaying projects just doesn’t pay off. The problems don’t go away and only get more expensive when they are pushed onto the streets. Budget planning must take into account how and when buildings, roads and equipment, from snow plows to computers, will need to be upgraded and/or replaced.

For Polk County, the budget planning process begins with meetings that Administrator Chuck Whiting holds with county department heads. At these meetings, he asks department heads to rank everything they have on their needs, wants, and wish lists. Everything comes to the table. As a result, the initial budget proposal starts at about a 15 percent or even 20 percent increase. Things are worked down from there.

Department heads always want the equipment and people that enable them to do more things and do them better. You can’t blame them for that.

In contrast, the commissioners are trying to keep the levy low…closer to that 3 percent mark. At the end of the process there is a good, fair budget… at least that’s what the county board thinks. While they may not agree, department heads are heard in the process and their issues are known so that they can be addressed in the future.

Ratings determine taxation

Property valuations are the basis for taxation. Home, business, and land valuations are determined by selling prices. Buyers and sellers are the ones who create reviews.

The State Compensation Committee monitors the assessment process. When properties are valued above or below market value – valuations are to be set at between 90 and 105 per cent of comparable sales values ​​- this Board has the power to add or subtract from that valuation any percentage necessary to bring it to market value.

In 1990, when values ​​were consistently outside of this range, valuation company Vanguard was hired to conduct a complete revaluation of commercial real estate in East Grand Forks. This was done again in Crookston seven years ago.

In recent years, community-wide reassessments of rating have taken place in Lengby, Nielsville, Fertile and several townships. Some of the property valuations were also significantly adjusted. Again, the valuations are based on the sales prices paid for comparable properties and are monitored by the State Department of Revenue.

Some positive things ahead

A few positive things in the future are:

  • The new Line 93 pipeline, which opened in October, crosses two townships (Chester and Gully) and touches a third (Eden) in far northeast Polk County. The valuation of the new Line 93 — as determined by the State of Minnesota — is expected to be more than double that of the old Line 3. The first tax allocation from the higher-valued new pipeline will be realized in 2023.
  • The final payment on the $17.5 million bonds sold in 2005 to build the Northwest Regional Corrections Center prison will be in February 2026. That means about $1.3 million less a year to collect from taxpayers to service the debt. Probably not all, but some of that $1.3 million rebate can be used to reduce tax collection.
  • A smaller $3 million bond was sold in 2015 to convert the old jail room at the Polk County Law Enforcement Center for use by the Sheriff’s Department and for the development of a new dispatch center. Money from this bond issue was also used to develop unused open space on the second floor of the Justice Center building for the district attorney’s office and to remodel rooms that the district attorney had vacated on the first floor of the building for the public health department. Public Health was previously housed in rented premises. This bond will also be retired in 2026.

Two other bond issues – a $3 million issue to remodel the office space in the East Grand Forks Human Service Center office building and a $3,125 issue to rebuild the interior of the Red River Juvenile Center (damaged by a rainstorm) and for a new roof and HVAC improvements at Polk County Justice Center – to be paid in 2030 and 2033.

cut spending

There are those who like to question how the county’s money is being spent, always saying it can be reduced. Well, if that’s what you want, the most likely way is to downsize.

The two areas that would be most vulnerable to downsizing would be public safety/law enforcement and road maintenance. I don’t know anyone who really wants to make compromises in these two areas. In other areas, a reduction in staff and services would be very difficult.

The budgeting process boils down to good planning and management…both for the present and in preparation for future needs. Call me biased, but I think things are pretty darn well managed in Polk County.

And for me, the county portion of my tax bill has only increased very slightly. Check the district portion of your bill.

Thoughts for the day:

  • I offered my opponents a deal: “If they stop telling lies about me, I will stop telling the truth about them.” — Adlai Stevenson 1952
  • A government that robs Peter to pay Paul can always count on Paul’s support. – Will Rogers

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