County Approves 2022 Preliminary Tax Levy | Thousand Lakes County

On September 29, the Mille Lacs County Council of Commissioners approved a preliminary tax levy of $ 22,339,589, a 24.5% increase from 2020.

The proposed increase, the maximum allowed, barely keeps pace with inflation (around 2%), according to board members. “Twenty-five percent is a shock to the public,” said Commissioner Tim Wilhelm.

Several factors are contributing to the increase: the trial of the Mille Lacs Band (which totaled 16% of the levy last year), out-of-home placement costs, doubled from 2013 to 2020 (14% of the levy, about 2, $ 5 million in 2020, two-thirds of which are not reimbursed), as well as salaries and health insurance premiums which continue to rise. The proposed increase also includes unforeseen expenses.

“There is some catching up to do to keep our level of funding where it needs to support our operations,” said Mille Lacs County Coordinator Dillon Hayes.

There was a discussion of how the reserve can be reduced through council action, including communicating with the legislator about a possible reimbursement of out-of-home care costs.

“The wish of the Council is not to have to do it, but we have to. It will be very hard for the inhabitants. We’re talking about a $ 2 million out-of-home placement cost that is not being reimbursed, ”said Commissioner Genny Reynolds,“ this is something we should talk to lawmakers about, to see how we can be reimbursed. . “

In some states, out-of-home placement costs are fully covered. Hayes said he is confident the Minnesota Counties Association is supportive and that this will become one of their priorities. In this scenario, the repayment of $ 2.5 million would reduce the increase in the levy to 10 or 11%.

“We will continue to cut the budget,” said Commissioner Roger Tellinghuisen, “before the last [budget] in December.”

Another reduction possibility discussed, but not taken into account, was in salaries for state employees, such as overtime for staff related to COVID procedures. Anyone who spends more than 50% of their time on COVID-related items can have their salary reimbursed in full. But conversations with staff regarding these matters have yet to take place. At best, these reductions would amount to 1.5-2%.

The biggest expense is the replenishment of reserves, currently budgeted at $ 2 million, against $ 6 million. If this were eliminated, the levy would be reduced to a 13% increase over last year. One concern is that only limited funds are available in the reserve, and the results of the 2020 audit have yet to be released.

“Obviously 24.5% is higher than what many want to see,” said Hayes, “and we’re all very aware of the impact it’s going to have. But we have two months to keep working. on it, and we’re going to do everything to get it to an acceptable number. There’s a lot of work to be done, but we’re ready to do it. “

The resolution to adopt the preliminary levy was approved by 4 votes to 1, with Commissioner Tim Wilhelm voting against the resolution. The final vote for the tax levy will take place on December 2, 2021 at the ordinary meeting of the Board of Directors.

“My interaction with the farmers is that they don’t like it but they understand it,” said Commissioner Phil Peterson. “The reality is that is where we are right now.”

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