County approves 8.38 percent tax levy increaseCarlton County Commissioners unanimously – though reluctantly – approved an 8.38 percent increase in the proposed 2009 property tax levy on Tuesday. By law the county must approve a proposed 2009 budget and property tax levy by Sept. 15, though commissioners have until mid-December to alter one or both of them.
By: Wendy Johnson, Pine Journal
Carlton County Commissioners unanimously – though reluctantly – approved an 8.38 percent increase in the proposed 2009 property tax levy on Tuesday.
By law the county must approve a proposed 2009 budget and property tax levy by Sept. 15, though commissioners have until mid-December to alter one or both of them. The caveat is that after preliminary approval, the county can adjust the budget and levy figures downwardly but not raise them above the approved levels.
By their own admission, commissioners have “a lot of ground yet to cover” before that time.
Under scrutiny is the percentage of the property tax increase that would be attributable to the proposed government building project, should the county choose to go ahead with it in the coming year.
According to Carlton County Auditor Paul Gassert, the increase in the 2009 property tax levy would likely amount to only 4.1 percent without the building project included, but that figure rises to 8.38 percent if a $700,000 debt service levy for a new government building is put into place. The term of the debt service would extend over the next 30 years.
“This has been a tough year for everybody,” acknowledged Board Chair Ted Pihlman. “I wonder just how important it is this year to put money in [the property tax levy] for this building.”
The board has already acknowledged the need for a new human services building, along with additional space to house other county departments that are outgrowing their current facilities.
A facilities and site selection process has been under way under the guidance of Wold Architects and Engineers of Minneapolis, but no final decisions have been made nor final cost estimates received.
Gassert said the site selection committee met a couple of weeks ago and determined that the human services building should take top priority at this time, recommending it be built on the site of the current human services building in Cloquet.
He indicated the overall opinion of committee members was that any new construction to house other county departments would probably have to be put off until a later date and perhaps be built adjacent to the County Transportation Building in rural Carlton.
Gassert said preliminary estimates from Wold indicate that the cost of constructing a human services building on the current site could range from $8-$10 million, emphasizing those figures are only approximate at this time. The required debt service levy for the project could fluctuate as well, he said, depending on what the final figures are when they come in.
Commissioner Dick Brenner stated he is in favor of going ahead with the building project and the related increase in the property tax levy.
“This year or next year – what’s the difference?” he posed, saying the human services building will have to be replaced in the very near future under any circumstances.
The only other options to reduce the proposed property tax levy would be to either cut down on the scope of the building project or go back to the county finance committee and ask them to consider what other cuts can be made in the county budget.
Sheriff Kelly Lake, who serves on that committee, indicated that the budget has already been pared back significantly and further reductions would likely have to come from staff layoffs. All of the commissioners agreed that such a move would not be in the best interest of the county at this time.
Brenner offered a motion to approve the 8.38 percent levy increase, indicating the board will “take a further look at it” before the December deadline to better determine just what the financial implications of the building project will be. The motion was seconded by Commissioner Marv Bodie and passed.
In a related move, the board approved a proposed expenditure budget of $42,197,566 and a revenue budget of $22,399,591. The proposed property tax levy amounts to $19,455,630.