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County Program Aid is property tax relief for local tax payers

By Trish Harren

Mower County Administrator

Counties operate as a local administrative arm of the state to carry out state-mandated programs relating to health and human services, public safety, land use, transportation, courts and other critical service areas. We do the work the state tells us to do, and the state provides the funding, or “aids,” to cover costs.

Trish Harren

State funded County Program Aid (CPA) is a general purpose aid provided to counties by the state as an off-set to county costs and recognition of the impact delivering services has on local taxpayers.

A 20-year look back at CPA in Mower County demonstrates that the state has not kept its part of the bargain. In 1999, Mower County received $2,245,699 in CPA. In 2019, Mower is slated to receive $2,180,981. During that same time frame the Mower County Levy or tax payer bill increased from $8,330,763 to $21,815,187.  This is due to many things, including increasing demand on health and human services due to an aging population as well as a dramatic increase in demand for law enforcement services related to drugs.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics consumer price index, today’s prices are 53.39 percent higher than 1999.  The 2019 CPA equivalent would be approximately $3,444,681.20 for a difference of $1,198,982.20.  As the chart indicates, not only has CPA not kept pace, it has actually decreased. This while mandates placed on county governments have increased every year.  This forces counties, such as Mower, to increase their local levy, placing the burden to cover the increasing costs of local services on the backs of property tax payers.

When CPA does not keep pace with increasing costs and is in fact reduced, county leaders have to make hard choices with limited options.  Mower County has become very creative in finding alternate ways to fund services. The local option sales tax and wheelage tax are two examples. We are also fortunate to have the benefit of wind energy production tax, which actually accounts for more tax relief than county program aid. Mower County has re-organized and realigned services for greater efficiency. Every employee is doing more work today than they did 20 years ago. Our employees treat tax payer dollars like it is their own and pinch pennies. We are doing our part. At some point, the state has to hold up their end of the bargain and increase relief to local property tax payers.

This year there is movement to recognize the fact that CPA and other aids to counties, such as transportation funding, have not kept pace. There is a bill to reset county program aid to its 2001 level. While this would not come close to where it should be, it is a move in the right direction.

If you are a residential or business property tax payer in Mower County, please let your legislators know that increasing CPA and other aids such as transportation funding for counties is critical. Property tax is the most regressive form of taxation. It hits hardest on those with fixed incomes, but impacts every property owner. State of Minnesota, we need you to keep up your end of the bargain so counties like Mower can take care of residents without breaking the backs of property tax payers.