At its Dec. 20 meeting, the Wright County Board of Commissioners formally approved its 2023 budget and certified levy. County Administrator Lee Kelly said that this process began in May and that Tuesday’s approval was the end of a long journey to try to arrive at a levy figure that wasn’t overly burdensome for residents and property owners.
“This is the final step in the budget process for the 2023 budget,” Kelly said. “There is a 3.89 percent levy increase for a budget of just over $180 million and a levy of $90.6 million.”
One of the issues the board faced during the process was the rare combination of residential property prices rising by more than 20 percent – a problem felt in Wright County, all of Minnesota and in most parts of the country – while inflation drove up the cost of practically everything needed to run the county from fuel to supplies.
Commissioner Darek Vetsch pointed out that the burden on taxpayers took a dramatic shift to residential landowners, who saw a significant spike in their valuations while commercial and agricultural properties remained effectively the same.
“I want to thank my fellow county board members and county staff on their diligence in trying to be fiscally responsible and trying to come forward with a levy that impacted residents as little as possible,” Vetsch said. “We know that residential taxpayers would have seen increases regardless of what we did at the county. That increase was going to substantial because of the shifting of capacity from commercial to residential. Commercial properties are seeing significant tax reductions while residential ones – even at a 3.89 percent levy increase – are seeing increases because of the way the tax system is set up in Minnesota.”
What was critical to making the 2023 levy more palatable was a difficult ask of county department heads in late-summer – to have each department reduce its budget request by 7 percent. The Finance Department was also tasked with reducing the tax rate lower than was wanted, but necessary to help out residential property owners this year while not creating the potential of a repeat of 2018, where years of putting off needed changes and big-ticket bond payments resulted in a 17.3 percent levy increase.
Vetsch expressed his gratitude for staff being able to achieve this difficult request and accomplishing it at a time when cash-strapped property owners needed it most.
“I want to make sure that we thank our department heads for making significant reductions wherever possible,” Vetsch said. “I also want to thank our Finance staff for helping us look at what we could do to minimize the impact this year and not create a bottleneck that would shift it on to future years.”
Nobody likes taxes and the county board was aware of the unique circumstances facing property owners (including themselves). For some, any increase is too much, but the commissioners did what they felt was best for the residents of the county as it continues to grow and the demands for service increase as well.