Guest Commentary: Your County – A good steward of scarce tax resources

A lot has been made recently of the increase in property tax bills to Chisago County residents and businesses.  Unfortunately, much of the commentary has been focused on who is to blame for these increases, instead of on what we in each level of government are doing to help our residents and businesses by keeping spending down and property values stable or improving.

I can only speak as an elected leader of Chisago County; as the decisions of our State Government, our City Councils, our Town Boards and our School Districts are made by other officials elected by you to manage these other government organizations.  While the County is required to consolidate all of these organizations’ property tax bills into a single statement, we are not authorized to approve or change them.

For example, your County had no control over the State of Minnesota’s decision to eliminate the Market Value Homestead Credit program and replace it with the new Homestead Market Value Exclusion.  This decision had two impacts on individual property tax bills – it eliminated a portion of your property tax bill the State of Minnesota used to pay (for homesteaded properties) and it shifted the now-larger property tax burden more onto commercial, industrial and residential rental properties.

However, as an extension of the State of Minnesota charged with delivering required government services, we have to take into account such changes beyond our control, as well as other social, economic and demographic realities facing our County and its residents and businesses.

We did and we continue to do so.  Here are just a few highlights of what your County has been doing to control or reduce government spending, as well as to help stabilize or improve falling property values:

• Your County government has held its tax levy (total amount of taxes collected) at the same level for four years, despite increasing demands for public services by those in greatest need;

• Over these same four years we have held our tax levy flat, our overall budget has been reduced by almost 10 percent, our County Program Aid has been reduced by over 17 percent; and we have reduced the County’s workforce by 25 people (7 percent);

• Your remaining County employees had their wages frozen for 3 of these 4 years, took up to 10 days of unpaid furlough last year, and saw their health care and other benefits significantly reduced;

• While we were finally able to include a small cost of living adjustment for remaining County employees and some of our hardworking elected leaders for 2012, your 5 elected County Commissioners reduced their own compensation by freezing salaries and lowering reimbursements (called per diems);

• We have focused our energies on not only delivering but improving critical public safety, public health, and community social services, as well as making smart land use and public works decisions, especially in our  local roads and bridges;

• We are also continuing our efforts to help retain and expand Chisago County businesses – especially for our agricultural, recreational and retail enterprises – as well as recruit new employers and industries, through economic development activities; and

• We are working with our community, business, and government partners in pursuing creative and innovative programs designed to make county government more efficient and effective.  An example of this effort: Our $10 million township-city-county 800 MHz digital radio upgrade for public safety communications.

Our objectives during these lean times are to preserve, maintain and, where possible, even enhance our core values of safety, community and vitality.  As stewards of your public trust, we welcome your thoughts and comments on our efforts, as well as your ideas on how to continue to improve our County government and its services.

George McMahon, 2012 Chairperson

Board of Commissioners Chisago County

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