A year after Wright County initiated one of the biggest
levy increases in county history, at its Dec. 17 meeting, the Wright County
Board of Commissioner adopted its 2020 budget and certified taxable levy (the
amount paid by county residents through property taxes).
The 2020 budget was set at $160,944,532, an increase
of 9.32 percent, largely due to a $3.9 million increase in the general fund
(used to pay employees) and slightly over $2 million in the capital projects
fund. Both are spurred by growth in the county and the need to have staffing to
meet the needs of a growth county.
However, the increase in the levy was significantly
lower. The levy of $78,582,512 (not including pass-through money for Lake
Improvement Districts of approximately $130,000 that taxpayers outside the LIDs
don’t pay), the 2020 figure represented a 6.69 percent increase over 2019. When
the LID money was taken out of the equation, the levy increase for
county-related business was 6.54 percent from 2019.
County Administrator Lee Kelly, who has been working
on the 2020 budget process since last spring, said that he and the county board
were very mindful of the displeasure expressed by residents last year when the
county found itself in the unenviable position of being forced to make a one-time
correction to the budget and levy, which raised the levy a whopping 17.3 percent
Kelly and the commissioners said at the time that the
correction would put the county back on track with its budgeting, which had
seen belt-tightening a decade ago during the financial crisis of 2008-09 that
kept looming larger as projects and hires that had been put off were becoming
more critical – and would remain so until a correction could be made.
At the Truth in Taxation hearing earlier this month,
very few residents asked questions about the county’s proposed 2020 budget and
levy because the numbers reflected a promise Kelly and the commissioners had
made. But, with the changes implemented in 2019, including the decision to build
a new Government Center and the completion of a compensation and classification
study to put the wages of county employees more in line with similarly-sized
counties, there couldn’t be a zero growth levy in terms of money needed to
operate the county in 2020.
“This year’s levy was a continuation of the strategic
plan for budgeting that we implemented last year,” Kelly said. “After last year’s
adjustment – that large number of 17.3 percent – we had a desire and felt we
owed it to the public to do as we said we would and keep the levy as a flat tax
rate as much as possible. We were able to do that.”
While the levy did go up by more than 6.5 percent, it
doesn’t mean that property taxes throughout the county will be going up that
amount. Because of the county’s continued robust growth and the addition of new
homes and businesses at near-record levels, there are more properties to share in
the cost of paying the levy.
In many instances, unless the value of a property came
in higher for 2020 than it did in 2019, Kelly said the county achieved its goal
of trying to have a flat tax rate that most property owners little to no growth
in their taxes.
“It was pretty close to a zero increase,” Kelly said. “There
are a lot of factors in determining property taxes, but if you didn’t have an
increase in value to your property, it would literally be a difference of a few
dollars over the course of a year.”
For a breakout of how the budget and levy numbers were
arrived at and a comparison of each to 2019, click on this link: