County cuts proposed levy in halfOnly about 10 people were on hand for Tuesday’s Carlton County Truth in Taxation Hearing, but chances are every one of them got a lesson in how county government works.
By: Wendy Johnson, Pine Journal
Only about 10 people were on hand for Tuesday’s Carlton County Truth in Taxation Hearing, but chances are every one of them got a lesson in how county government works.
Carlton County Board Chair Ted Pihlman prefaced the meeting by explaining that its purpose was “to show how the county is spending your money in 2013” – not for taxpayers to question their individual property tax values and classifications as indicated on the proposed tax statements recently received in the mail. Pihlman explained the proper avenue for those types of complaints is with their individual Boards of Review at the township or city level after receiving their individual valuation classification in the spring. If they don’t receive the satisfaction they desire, they can then take their situation before the County Board of Appeals and Equalization in June.
Pihlman then went on to explain that the annual county levy is set according to the proposed budget for the year, which is set to cover the cost the county incurs to function. The amount of the resulting levy in turn determines how much taxes will be charged to residents.
With the housekeeping duties out of the way, the board moved on to address the budget changes and implications for 2013. In September the board approved a maximum levy increase of 6.31 percent. Since that time, however, county staff and officials have been hard at work to pare down the budget expectations to reduce the amount of the levy.
“I went over every single line of the department budgets to find out what further could be done,” said County Coordinator Dennis Genereau, who also chairs the County Finance Committee. “What I found was that the department heads, to a person, had already done an excellent job of keeping their budgets to an absolute minimum.”
Genereau went on to say the big thing that was done to reduce the budget and corresponding levy was to eliminate all proposed new positions. The two exceptions are the addition of a new probation officer, with an eye toward reducing the amount spent on out-of-county placement for prisoners, and the addition of a courthouse security officer.
“Our courthouse is 90 years old and has no secure entrances, which leaves it extremely vulnerable,” explained Genereau, referring to the security breach at the Cook County Courthouse in Grand Marais that resulted in a shot fired at the county attorney by a disgruntled defendant who had just been sentenced.
“The degree of violence is increasing,” added Carlton County Sheriff Kelly Lake, “and we’re seeing the need to have someone who is armed to respond to the security needs of staff and visitors at the courthouse.”
Lake said currently only part-time, unarmed bailiffs are on duty at the courtrooms, and she suggested that a full-time licensed deputy be utilized to supplement their duties and be assigned to police the entire courthouse.
Genereau went on to explain, however, that there are some costs that cannot be avoided in the 2013 budget.
“We have worked to identify the county’s building needs over the past 10-15 years,” said Genereau. “We have a building on North 10th Street in Cloquet [the former Carlton County Public Health offices] that is in dire need of upgrading, a possible second-floor expansion to the County Transportation Building to help eliminate overcrowding in the courthouse, the need for a new roof on the jail and several issues with the courthouse itself, such as security needs and failing air conditioning systems. Though the building was built in 1922, it was built to last, and we’re big on preventive maintenance.”
In summary, Carlton County Auditor/Treasurer Paul Gassert said in addition to eliminating new positions, the proposed 2013 budget will also be reduced through rebates on the money borrowed to finance the Community Services Building, miscellaneous revenue sources that have been identified in the amount of $40,000-$50,000, and refinancing existing debt for a savings of some $425,000.
In all, Gassert said the proposed savings should reduce the 2013 levy down from $1.3 million to $650,000, bringing the increase down from 6.31 percent to 3.1 percent.