County seeking a zero-percent levy increase

For the fifth year in a row, Chisago County is looking to keep its property-tax rate flat.

At an afternoon budget workshop meeting Aug. 22, County Administrator Bruce Messelt presented the county board with the first draft of the preliminary budget he and other county staff have been working on since January.

Following recommendations by the county board to keep the levy down, Messelt showed a budget to the board that would do just that.

“The departments said keeping a zero-percent levy increase was going to be tough, but it was basically doable,” he said.

Even though county staff presented a $51.7 million balanced budget that reflects a zero-percent property tax increase from last year, that doesn’t mean every county department is keeping budgets flat or facing cuts.

“At the end of the day, there are actually some departments that we’re recommending increasing their budgets,” Messelt said. There is a rational basis for that.”

He added, “It wasn’t cut, cut, cut, cut, cut for everybody.”

However, numerous county departments are facing reductions, in budgets and in personnel.

Due to the board deciding to no longer fund the home health care program, the Health and Human Services department will see a significant staff reduction.

Under the proposed budget, some other county positions would also not be filled.

Messelt also noted a number of challenges facing the county in upcoming years.

He said the tax base continues to decline, changing population issues are a concern and rising operating costs – especially in terms of fuel – is an issue to keep in mind.

County Commissioner Lora Walker queried Messelt about instances of counties keeping property-tax rates flat for half a decade.

“Are you aware of any county that has done that for five years?” she asked.

Messelt responded, “I’m not aware of it.”

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