Oscarson: Attend TNT to learn about budget, services

Published 8:17 am Tuesday, December 9, 2014

By Craig Oscarson

Mower County Coordinator

The county will hold its annual budget meeting at 6 p.m. on Thursday in the Mower County Board Room. This is also referred to as the truth in taxation meeting. We encourage all interested taxpayers and citizens of Mower County to attend and learn about the county budget, as well as the proposed tax levy for the county. In September, the board approved a proposed levy, which in total will increase the county portion of property taxes by 7 percent.

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The purpose of the hearing is to provide information related to the proposed 2015 budget and associated tax levy. In my time with the county, most people who attend the meeting are generally not there for its intended purpose but rather property tax related issues that are not the purpose of the meeting. An example is property value increases or property classification changes. We realize these are two of the 14 reasons why your property taxes can change and we want to assist you in getting answers for these items. In reality, both of these items are issues that are the responsibility of the county Board of Equalization which meets in the summer. If these are issues with your property we will advise you to meet with the county assessor who will be able to set up a meeting to review your property value or classification to see if our records are accurate and up to date. This is an important part of the property tax system and we want to make sure all taxpayers are treated fairly and equitable. Our county assessor’s office is prepared and willing to meet with you and will treat you in a fair and professional manner.

Another major purpose of the hearing is for the board to receive input on the level of services we provide and the funding associated with those services. In many cases the board has little or no say in providing the service but can have a say in the level and amount of the service. A good example is snow plowing and maintenance of county roads. Of course requests to increase the level of service normally results in higher property taxes as that can be a major funding source for these services. If you would like to see changes in the programs or services we provide this hearing is one of your opportunities to have your voice heard. You can always call your commissioner or my office and we will do our best to answer your questions and provide the best information we can.

What many people do not realize is the role of county government and who actually determines what services we provide and deliver to you. County government in Minnesota is actually an arm of state government. The majority of what we do is commonly referred to as state and federal mandatory services. The mandatory services account for between 70 percent and 95 percent of all county expenditures and this varies based on the optional services that county chooses to provide. In addition, we do not receive 100 percent reimbursement for our costs for these programs. This is what we call unfunded mandates or underfunded mandates. A good example is the food stamp program or what is currently called SNAP. County employees are responsible to help qualified resident apply to receive this benefit but we only receive about 50 percent of our costs as reimbursement from the federal government. The remainder is a part of your property tax bill. The board cannot legally terminate or modify this program only your federal legislators.

For 2015, we are requesting an increase in total taxes of 7 percent or $1,217,786. Part of that increase is due to reductions of state and federal funding for the mandated programs we deliver. In addition in many mandatory programs we receive what is in essence a lump sum amount and the inflationary costs of these programs can be passed on as additional property tax burden. In 2015 we are seeing $520,409 in funding reductions in five program areas let alone the “hidden” cost of inflation for other mandatory program. These are the Children’s Mental Health grant ($64,497 reduction), Mental Health funding ($76,500), Federal Administration Aid ($48,000), County Program Aid ($323,412) and loss of revenue related to the state taking over UCC filings from the recorder’s office. I would note that other than the UCC filings, the county responsibility in all these other areas was not reduced. If the funding streams had been maintained the county would have been able to propose a 4 percent tax increase instead of the 7 percent figure.

We will continue to review budgets for possible changes to see if the levy can be reduced without impacting our core services and mandatory requirements. We ask you provide input not only at this time of year but throughout the year so we can efficiently deliver the services that are not only required but those that are desired by our constituents.