County property tax increase will be less than last year

Published 6:58 am Wednesday, September 9, 2009

By approving a number of cuts Tuesday, the Mower County board was able to set a property tax increase that will be significantly less than last year’s — and the 2009 number could still be whittled down to zero.

The board set 1.5 percent as the maximum increase to the levy, a number that would equate to about $2 to $3 extra a year for the average owner of a $100,000 home in taxes and would bring in an additional $223,000 for the county.

Last year, property taxes jumped by 17.9 percent in Mower County — an increase fueled largely by the new jail and justice center project.

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And while the board seemed pleased to put forward such a slight increase this time around, the goal is still to get the number down to zero.

By state law, the tax levy can’t be increased after Sept. 15, but commissioners have until the end of the year if they’d like to lower the levy.

To do that, they’d have to look at more cuts and possibly staff reductions.

The budget already has a number of cuts — most notably to the Michael H. Seibel Family Visitation Center and to the Crisis Nursery.

Both were spared last month when the board made cuts to deal with roughly $530,000 in June unallotments from Gov. Tim Pawlenty.

But the board warned that 2010 could be different, and the services now face nearly $30,000 in cuts.

Maryanne Law, executive director of the county’s Parenting Resources Center, said she was disappointed in Tuesday’s decision but would work hard to get the services back in the budget by December.

“Elected officials need to hear from constituents that (preventative services) are important,” she said. “We’re going to work hard to do that.”

Law and other supporters have said that the services save the county money by lessening the need for other services down the road, such as foster care.

“It makes a difference,” Law said of having preventative services.

Another cost saver for the county will be the closing of the water lab by the end of the year.

The board voted in a separate motion Tuesday to close the lab, which is located near the county highway department and tests water for a number of clients, including small towns and private customers.

With the lab gone, the county will refer people to a number of other privately-owned testing sites in the area, as well as a publicly-owned operation in Olmsted County.

No jobs are expected to be lost when the lab closes, but staff currently working in the lab will be shifted to offices in the nearby recycling center.

The empty lab would then provide space for storage or could be leased out, according to county documents.

All told, the move is expected to save the county $60,000 in 2010.

For citizens looking to offer input on the tax levy and all the proposed cuts, a truth-in-taxation hearing was also set Tuesday.

That meeting will be held Dec. 1 right after 6 p.m.