County presents proposed 2014 budget and levy
WORTHINGTON — In a half-hour-long public hearing Tuesday evening, Nobles County Administrator Tom Johnson presented the county’s proposed 2014 budget and levy to department heads and fewer than a handful of local taxpayers in attendance.
The presentation was the culmination of five months of budgetary number crunching to whittle through departmental wants and needs. In the end, the county is proposing a slightly more than $11.4 million levy for 2014. This represents a 4.31 percent increase from 2013, a figure that’s down from the not-to-exceed levy of 5.69 percent set by commissioners in September.
The greatest share of the tax burden is again placed on owners of agricultural land. Continued high prices paid for land have increased land values and, as such, led to increased taxes as well.
An estimated 67.8 percent of tax capacity value comes from agricultural land — up from 63.2 percent in 2013 — while residential property owners provide roughly 15.25 percent of the tax capacity. Commercial/industrial covers 10.9 percent, personal property is 3.4 percent, utilities and railroad are 1.47 percent and apartments are 1.17 percent.
Other sources of revenue for the county include an anticipated $609,468 in County Program Aid and $711,601 in wind energy production tax revenue. County Program Aid is split between the public works, building and general funds, while wind energy production tax money will be divided between the building fund and the operating budget, Johnson said.
The county also anticipates a tax savings of roughly $80,000 in 2014 as a result of tax exemptions approved by the Minnesota Legislature earlier this year.
As Johnson pointed out during the public hearing, the county will get slightly less than 42 percent of the locally generated tax in 2014. School districts collect more than 25 percent, townships/cities collect 22 percent, the state gets nearly 9 percent and special taxing authorities — such as watershed districts, housing and redevelopment authorities and the Southwest Regional Development Commission — get the remaining 2 percent.
With that 42 percent that goes to the county, numerous services are provided. In an example breaking down a $1,000 tax bill, $417 would go to the county. Human Services gets the greatest share of the pie at $92, followed by general government at $80, public safety at $65, debt at $49 (the county’s debt service is for Prairie Justice Center bonds), corrections at $48, highway department at $40, culture and recreation at $26, public health at $9, conservation of natural resources at $5 and economic development at $3.
Local taxpayer and Worthington City Council member Rod Sankey complained about the county’s levy during the public hearing, saying that it was too high and the county needed to better sort out its wants and needs.
“Your proposed tax hike is way out of line with inflation,” Sankey said, referring to the not-to-exceed levy of 5.69 percent. He said the levy increase should be cut in half, to about 2.8 percent.
“Those are the things we really sort through — what are wants and what are needs,” responded Commissioner Marv Zylstra. “I think we did a really diligent job.”
“The thing that brought us to 4.31, we decided to put more money in roads and bridges,” Commissioner Don Linssen said. “That was money that was taken away in the past. We felt infrastructure needed to be brought back to today’s standards.”
The final levy and budget adoption is slated to be completed by the county board at its Dec. 17 meeting.