Commissioners official approve tax levy increase of 5.5%

Published 6:02 pm Tuesday, December 12, 2023

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Just a day after they voted to move it forward, Mower County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday morning, during their regular meeting, approved the 2024 levy and budget.

A tax levy increase was set at 5.5% or $1.3 million and will generate $25 million in revenue in 2024, which accounts for 39% of the overall budget.

While higher in comparison to recent years, next year’s tax levy increase was brought down from what was originally 18% at the start of the process.

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However, it is the highest increase for the county since 2015, when commissioners approved a 7% tax levy increase.

Commissioners have been able to keep levy increases small over recent years including just a .50% increase in 2021, but those numbers were bolstered by American Rescue Plan Act dollars related to the COVID pandemic and the ability to keep health insurance premiums low among other factors.

However, this year the board was faced with three cost drivers and one of those was a sharp increase to health insurance.

After seeing increases of just 5-6% over a five-year period, the county is looking at a 20% increase this in 2024, equating to a $500,000 increase.

There was also a 6% market rate adjustment, due largely to labor contracts, that added another $1.5 million into the mix as well as general inflation costs across the board.

At the same time, though, commissioners were able to get the increase down by making cuts and adjustments in a variety of areas that saw purchases for things like squad cars for the Mower County Sheriff’s Department being made this year rather than 2024.

The county also received revenue enhancements as well as one-time revenue additions including $342,424 for medical assistance renewals, $663,309 for use in public safety as well as a $250,000 grant for the E-recycling addition to the Recycling Center.

Interim cannabis policy pushed forward

The board approved both a cannabis interim ordinance and cannabis use in public spaces ordinance being placed on an upcoming meeting agenda following a public input portion of Tuesday’s meeting.

Commissioners will vote on the topic at the Dec. 26 meeting.

The interim ordinance is familiar to those passed by other entities and prohibits the establishment of new or expansion of existing businesses for sale, manufacturing or more of cannabis products until the interim ordinance is repealed by the board or Jan. 1, 2025, whichever comes first.

It also establishes that licenses or permits not be issued and planning and zoning applications not be accepted.

The ordinance does not apply to the Medical Cannabis Program administered by the Minnesota Department of Health, nor does it apply to continued sales of THC products currently allowed under state statute.

Meanwhile, the use ordinance will prohibit use of cannabis products in public places or “places of public accommodation unless the premises is an establishment or event licensed to permit on-site consumption of adult-use cannabis flower and adult-use cannabis product.”

It also prohibits use around minors.

The Jan. 1, 2025 deadline was adopted by the state as an end date for cities and counties to establish lasting and meaningful policies following the passage of recreational use cannabis products during the last legislative session.

As part of the passage of the two policies, Mower County is also required to form a committee looking into the impact and that will come back to the board with recommendations of proceeding with long term policy.

CIP approved

Commissioners also approved of the 2024-2028 Capital Improvement plan, which is a five-year plan currently on the books at $54 million, though that number is fluid depending on how projects shift over the coming five years.

Of that $54 million, $7.6 million is earmarked for use in 2024 and of that number $6.3 million will be used for road and bridge projects.

Another $1 million will be used for equipment purchases and $300,000 will be used for maintenance projects.