WORTHINGTON — After setting a not-to-exceed 2021 levy increase of 4% in September, Nobles County commissioners are now eyeing a mere 1.08% levy increase as they move closer to adopting next year’s budget and levy.

During a Truth in Taxation public hearing Tuesday evening, commissioners viewed a presentation from County Administrator Tom Johnson about the proposed $37,941,708 budget. Minus anticipated revenues of $23,081,614, it leaves the county with $14,860,094 to be raised through property taxes. This is 1.075% higher than the amount needed to be raised through taxes in 2020.

“Nobles County continues to rank third lowest of the nine southwest Minnesota counties in tax levy per capita,” Johnson noted of 2020.

Offering the lowest tax levy per capita was Lyon County ($588.40), followed by Rock County ($657.55) and Nobles County at $670.50 per capita. Jackson County had the highest tax levy per capita at $1,095.26 in 2020, while Cottonwood County was at $980.91, Murray County at $947.11 and Pipestone County at $801.25.

Nobles County will receive a slight increase (.72%) in County Program Aid in 2021, but it is still 32% less than in 2000, which was the highest point in aid paid to counties, not adjusted for inflation.

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Johnson also noted that the cost of mandated services continues to increase and the county’s population is showing slow growth, which is better than many area counties who are seeing a population decline.

“It’s been a really challenging year due to COVID,” Johnson said, adding that there is a tremendous amount of economic uncertainty moving forward.

The good news is that the county’s debt service is down “quite a lot,” Johnson said with the last payment on the Prairie Justice Center bonds budgeted.

He noted thatsalary and benefits are driving the 1.075% levy increase, along with a sharp decline in jail revenue due to fewer counties asking Nobles County to house inmates.

A snapshot of tax generation in Nobles County shows that 64.9% of the funds in 2021 will come from agriculture, with 16.82% generated by residential properties, 11.93% from commercial/industrial properties, 3.39% from personal property, 1.53% from apartments, and 1.43% from utilities and the railroad.

In 2021, if your tax bill is $1,000, Nobles County will receive $410 (41%). Of that, $122 funds general government, $89 funds human services, $61 funds public safety (the sheriff’s office), $54 funds the jail, $26 funds culture and recreation, $22 funds the highway department and single-digit amounts go toward public health, parole and probation, conservation of natural resources and economic development.

A budget committee consisting of county administration, finance and two members of the county board has worked with department heads since July to develop the 2021 budget. They were praised by fellow commissioners Tuesday evening for their work to keep the 2021 levy increase to a minimum.

“Staff and department heads had a directive to hold things as tight as they can this year,” said Commissioner Gene Metz. “We’re not sure what’s going to come down from the state.”

“It’s been a difficult year for everyone involved,” added Commissioner Donald Linssen. “I really appreciate the work done by everybody.”

The 2021 budget and levy will be adopted during the board’s Dec. 22 meeting, which begins at 9 a.m.