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County board keeps levy increase low

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Willmar, 56201
Willmar Minnesota 2208 Trott Ave. SW / P.O. Box 839 56201

WILLMAR -- Kandiyohi County is one of just a handful of counties in Minnesota that has adopted a 2006 levy increase that is less than 5 percent.

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County Administrator Wayne Thompson said seven or eight counties that have approved a levy of 5 percent or less for next year. Some counties have adopted double-digit levy increases this year, with some as high as 22 percent.

The gross levy the Kandiyohi County Commissioners adopted Friday was $23,499,350. That's an increase of 4.41 percent from 2005. The county has had single-digit increase for the last five years. Because of the low increase, the county was not required to hold a truth in taxation hearing this year.

In terms of the tax levy "Kandiyohi County is a very conservative county," said Thompson.

The tax capacity rate was reduced 8.61 percent for 2006 to 64.251 to off-set increased valuations. Thompson said if the county didn't lower the tax capacity rate "we'd have more money than we'd know what to do with." He said increased property values and new construction doesn't necessarily mean a "windfall" of new revenue for the county.

"Everyone thinks we're taking in that much more money," said Commissioner Dennis Peterson.

Thompson said the levy determines the county's revenues.

Commissioner Richard Larson also said the limited market value provision, which limits the rate of increase in property taxes for individual properties, skews the reality of taxes in the county. He said high priced properties are given a tax break when it comes to property taxes. "Someone is picking that up," said Larson. He said the tax burden is being shifted to lower priced properties.

In Kandiyohi County, homeowners with property values that have stayed the same are paying 9 percent more in property taxes to make up for the breaks given to "over-priced homes."

Commissioner Harlan Madsen said the provision encourages people to over-bid and over-pay for property, especially farm, recreation and lake properties.

Larson said the limited market value provision was supposed to have ended this year, but the Legislature extended it two more years. He said it should be abolished now.

The 2006 Kandiyohi County budget includes revenues of $58,433,050. The expenditures are $10,000 less, at $58,423,050. The big-ticket items in the expenditure category include: $25.8 million for the general/solid waste fund; $15.1 million for the road and bridge fund; $13.1 million for family services; $1.5 million for the Law Enforcement Center building bond; and $1.3 million for the county building fund.

This will be the last budget that Thompson will be solely responsible for presenting to the board. Thompson said he plans to officially announce his retirement as county administrator in July. He said, however, he will assist the new administrator in preparing the 2007 budget and levy.

During the meeting, Madsen praised Thompson for his work and his "depth" of understanding of the budget and financial workings of the county. "It is with highest regard that I say thank you," said Madsen. "You have served Kandiyohi County beyond people's expectation."

Cuts for counties

In contrast with the good financial news of the county's levy and budget, Family Service Director Larry Kleindl said action by lawmakers in Washington, D.C. could mean harsh cuts for Kandiyohi County's managed care programs, including programs that serve children, elderly residents and people with disabilities.

Under the proposal, $50 billion would be cut from federal funding, leaving states and counties to cover costs for programs. Kleindl said Minnesota would lose $15 billion, with the cuts passed down to counties.

There's the potential for Kandiyohi County to lose a portion, or all, of its $718,000 annual allocation, starting in 2007.

"We're talking about major cuts," said Kleindl. "These dollars are real."

Kleindl said the federal funding helps counties provide safety net programs for people. "This is pretty devastating news," he said. "When will people say enough is enough?"

Madsen said the proposal would be a "significant shift" in funding. "The hammer is going to fall," he said.

The House and Senate passed slightly different versions of the bill, which will be fine-tuned in a conference committee.

Youth program grows

The number of juveniles using the Prairie Lakes Youth program has been steadily growing since 2003.

The program, formerly known as the Prairie Lakes Detention program, has a detention center, a correctional facility and a non-secure center for juveniles.

Director Darin Balken told the Commissioners that increased funding for juvenile programs and a shift in how judges respond to juvenile offenders has resulted in increasing number of youth at the facility, which offers treatment and counseling that can get kids back on the right track.

He said when budgets were tight, kids weren't sent to treatment facilities but were put back into the community where they oftentimes repeated their offenses.

Madsen said that past trend ended up costing counties more money in the end.

Balken said youth from about 40 counties use the center during a given year.

Balken thanked Thompson and the Commissioners for securing a permanent home for the program on the Willmar Regional Treatment Center campus. Most of the campus is being sold to a private company. The county purchased the two buildings where Prairie Lakes is located.

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West Central Tribune (320) 235-6769 customer support
A reporter for more than 30 years, Carolyn Lange covers county government and regional news with the West Central Tribune.
(320) 894-9750
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