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County reduces levy increase to 3.5 percent

Monday night appeared to be a fairly typical night at the county's annual budget and levy hearing (formerly known as Truth in Taxation), but after a year of state unallotments, backsliding revenues, area wide layoffs and economic setbacks, it see...

Monday night appeared to be a fairly typical night at the county's annual budget and levy hearing (formerly known as Truth in Taxation), but after a year of state unallotments, backsliding revenues, area wide layoffs and economic setbacks, it seemed that no news could possibly be good news for the county's tax payers.

Not necessarily so, disputed Mike Stafford, county finance committee chair.

"Since the beginning of September when the board approved a preliminary increase of 4.19 percent in its 2010 tax levy," Stafford said, "the finance committee has met and lowered the suggested increase to 3.5 percent."

Stafford explained the reduction was made possible, in part, by a reduction of some $275,000 in the county's share of expenses for Arrowhead Regional Corrections after the board of the multi-county organization decided to pass along fees for probation services along to the "users" instead of charging the participating counties. In addition, the county's finance committee decided to delete a debt service levy of some $90,000 for two previous bonds due to be paid off, which helped lower the number of tax payer dollars required to meet the budget as well.

Other adjustments made since the initial levy proposal included adding a $100,000 emergency reserve fund to cover unanticipated expenses and reinstating at least some of the amount budgeted for seasonal hires in parks.

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Stafford explained the county will actually spend approximately $283,000 less [in 2010] than in 2009, though Treasurer Paul Gassert later added the county anticipates a reduction in its revenues of some $250,000 as well.

About a dozen taxpayers were on hand at Monday night's meeting. Some angrily clutched their recently received 2010 property tax statements in hand. Others addressed commissioners in loud, angry voices about classification changes on their property. And at least one issued guarded praise to the county and its staff for "moving in the right direction, for the most part" in keeping increases to a minimum.

"You have to reduce spending somehow," insisted one constituent, "or you'll drive people right out of the county."

"The assessor just has to be reined in to start reducing property values," said another.

"I love my little corner of the world, but Carlton County is taxing us right away from it," summed up yet another.

Gassert said that while most property tax issues need to be addressed at local and county board of equalization hearings in the spring, he explained that much of the recent confusion about property taxes and assessments have resulted from reclassifications and changes in terminology coming down from the state.

"Going from an agricultural classification to pretty much anything else, for example, is likely going to double, if not triple, your taxes," said Gassert.

At the conclusion of the hearing, commissioners unanimously passed the 2010 budget and levy in its revised form. The budgeted expenditures for 2010 amount to $41,388,382, and the budgeted revenues total $21,705,420, resulting in an anticipated fund balance of $90,0988. As a result, the 2010 levy will amount to $19,592,864.

Related Topics: CARLTON COUNTY
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