County Commission gets its preliminary tax levy increase down to 5.5%

Published 6:18 pm Tuesday, September 12, 2023

The Mower County Board of Commissioners have set their 2024 preliminary tax levy nearly two percent points lower than its initial target.

In a unanimous vote, commissioners set the preliminary tax levy at 5.5% or just over $25.4 million. That’s down from the 7% increase they were looking at confirming going into Tuesday morning’s meeting.

The drop in the levy increase was made possible due in part to a formula error that made the percentage higher than originally figured. Something else that factored in was $600,000 the county uses to pay half of employee’s health insurance deductibles through the Voluntary Employees’ Beneficiary Association Plan (VEBA).

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In years past, that sum has not been budgeted and would just get absorbed within the annual budget, but  the county is now choosing to account for that money separately so that the money can be seen coming in and going out.

County Administrator Trish Harren Gjersvik said that in order to help get the tax levy down to 5.5%, they are deferring the start of that new system to next year, while at the same time admitting its not something she would advise doing normally.

“It’s creative, not ideal,” she said.

The county also had extra aid totaling $857,000 come in from various areas as well as continued use of wind tax money. The situation is further helped along by five county staff still being funded by American Rescue Plan Act dollars.

The 5.5% is still preliminary and the board can still go lower until it’s ultimately confirmed as the final tax levy, though Harren Gjersvik said it was doubtful any more could be done to make the levy any lower.

Still, commissioners were on board for the decrease and believe that the 5.5% can be reached.

“I have confidence in Loni (Swenson, Finance Manager) and Trish that they have gone over everything with a fine-toothed comb,” Commissioner Polly Glynn said.

In pushing for this lower percentage Harren Gjersvik also said that as in years past, they are trying to be good partners to the City of Austin as well as the Austin Public Schools District, both of which are dealing with inflation-related challenges.

The city has set a preliminary tax levy increase of 9%.

“We are trying to be very cognizant of their pressures each year,” Harren Gjersvik said.