Chisago County sets preliminary 2014 property-tax levy

Since 2009, the Chisago County Board of Commissioners has either kept the county property-tax rate flat or reduced it from previous years, and that trend will continue in 2014.

By a 4-1 vote, the board decided to set its preliminary property-tax levy at $31,347,021, a slight decrease from last year’s levy.

Initially, that number was slated to be $200,000 less, but Commissioner George McMahon said he was uncomfortable taking that money from the county’s Health and Human Services reserve fund.

“There are so many unknowns that we have to deal with yet this year in HHS with all the different programs,” he said.

Commissioners Ben Montzka, Rick Greene and Mike Robinson went along with McMahon’s suggestion to keep the $200,000 in the HHS reserve fund, but Commissioner Lora Walker said she felt the work county staff had done on the levy was good.

“The (budget) committee oversaw work for many months now, and I was comfortable with that work,” she said.

Seeking more money for 4-H

Before the board voted to approve the levy — which can be decreased but not increased before it has to be certified by the state in December — Commissioner Mike Robinson proposed giving the county’s 4-H program $10,000 next year.

He couldn’t get his fellow commissioners on board with that suggestion, and his motion died for lack of a second.

Budget ‘red flag’ 

At the beginning of the budget presentation, Chisago County Administrator Bruce Messelt noted the proposed 2014 budget is “healthy,” but that doesn’t mean there aren’t some areas of concern.

Specifically, he mentioned the county’s debt service.

“What’s alarming to me is we’re running 8 percent for debt service,” he said, noting much of that debt was issued to pay for road improvement projects. “We have obligations to pay almost $5 million next year for past debt, not issuances of new debt. We’re not assuming any new debt. That’s just paying off old debt.”

And even with the new hires to help the county sift through the paperwork related to the Affordable Care Act, Messelt said county staffing levels are far below what they were in years past.

“We’ve seen a personnel reduction – an 18 percent reduction in overall county workforce since 2006,” he said.

‘Major focus’ 

Crumbling county infrastructure has been a topic that’s been thoroughly discussed over the course of several county board meetings, and that area is the one Messelt tapped as the budget focal point for next year.

“The major focus in 2014 is to increase money for road maintenance and construction and also to address other capital needs in the Government Center and some other vehicle and equipment replacement needs,” he said.

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