Archived Story

Board concerned about state funds

Published 4:44pm Saturday, February 9, 2013

The Mower County Board of Commissioners pressed its case to local legislators to advocate for less mandates and restrictions, less cuts to county funding, and caution in raising taxes Friday.

County commissioners and officials raised several concerns to state Rep. Jeanne Poppe, DFL-Austin, and state Sen. Dan Sparks, DFL-Austin, specifically about the financial impact of Gov. Mark Dayton’s proposed budget and the future of County Program Aid.

Board Chairman Jerry Reinartz expressed concern over Dayton’s proposal to reform the tax system and impose a sales tax on services such as haircuts, legal consultation, accountant work, clothing and other items.

“All these are going to the people [Dayton] supposedly wants to help, but you’re adding to their tax bill,” Reinartz said.

Poppe said it’s unlikely every item in the governor’s budget proposals would become law, but said Dayton’s ideas would help spur conversation on finding ways to increase revenue and make budget cuts, which could include easing some of the state’s mandates.

“We have to be thinking [about] the big picture here,” she said. “If we’re going to be concerned about … taxes increasing, then we have to be concerned about how we’re going to balance the budget in a different way.”

 Formula shifts and budget woes

County Coordinator Craig Oscarson urged legislators to pay attention to County Program Aid (CPA) funding, which under Dayton’s proposal would be reset to 2012 levels. A shift in the CPA formula has commissioners and county officials concerned about a decrease in funding, and Oscarson said he’s heard of counties trying to over-levy its residents if the state does away with CPA money.

Another shift to health and human services funding under the Vulnerable Child and Adults Act could cost the county about $250,000 over four years, according to Julie Stevermer, director of Health and Human Services.

“It can dramatically affect — possibly in the wrong way — our budget and thus our services,” Stevermer told legislators.

Stevermer said the shift affects health and human service departments which don’t provide more services than what’s required by state law, which means further cutting will impact how county departments comply with state mandates.

Commissioners say the county won’t be able to operate under further shifts and mandates if state legislators make more changes to the budget. Commissioner Tim Gabrielson said the county turned down every department request this year except for a new hire to the Mower County Sheriff’s Office, which is already understaffed.

Mower County had the 13th highest amount of arrests in 2012 out of Minnesota’s 87 counties, according to Mower County Attorney Kristen Nelsen, and third in arrests per capita.

“We have got some real critical issues we’re trying to deal with,” Gabrielson said. “If the money keeps going away, we’re not going to be able to do it.”

 Ag land increases

County officials asked legislators whether any limited market effect on agricultural land values would take place in the legislature this year, as Mower County ag land is expected to increase by 40 percent on average in 2014.

“We’re going to see a huge increase in our ag values,” Oscarson said.

Agricultural land makes up slightly more than 50 percent of Mower County’s property tax base, with land valued at about $5,500 an acre on average, according to county officials. Yet agricultural land sales are skyrocketing, with a median land sale taking place at about $8,000 in value and some land selling as high as $12,000 an acre.

“In rural counties like this that are ag-related, we’re going to see a huge shift in property tax burden to the ag community in 2014,” Oscarson said.

Commissioner Polly Glynn said the increased tax burden would largely affect farmers and land owners who aren’t interested in selling.

“As long as the ag sector has good years, they’re not going to complain a lot, but that’s not going to last,” Glynn told legislators. “There’s going to be a day of reckoning and the ag prices are going to drop, and they’re not going to have the funds to handle those taxes.”

Both Sparks and Poppe said they would take the county’s concerns to the Capitol for discussion in the state Legislature.

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