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Wright County News

Posted on: December 17, 2019

County Board Sets 2020 Budget, Levy

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 for 2019.

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:

http://www.co.wright.mn.us/AgendaCenter/ViewFile/Item/7578?fileID=15916  

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