‘No tax increase’

Louise Oleson
Here business owner Eric Boren makes a point as he discusses property taxes with the Ramsey County Commission at Tuesday evening’s hearing.

Residents let County Commission know how

they feel about tax increase

Several concerned taxpayers made their wishes known loud and clear at Tuesday’s Ramsey County Commission meeting, “No tax increase!”

The 6 p.m. portion of the meeting that had begun at 1:30 p.m. was a hearing designed specifically for residents to have their say about a potential tax increase in Ramsey County.

A number of county residents attended the meeting and they came armed with questions.

The County Auditor, Elizabeth Fischer, had published a notice stating that the county was in the process of setting its budget and providing information about what that might mean for the mills levied.

She explained at the outset of the hearing that the notice was only an estimate and was intended to help people prepare in the event that taxes were to increase, but that it wasn’t determined, yet, if they would be increasing or not. “We want to warn the taxpayers beforehand just in case there might be a slight increase, so they’re not surprised when the tax bills come out,” she explained.

The publication goes in the newspaper and then taxpayers can come to the hearings and air their concerns.

Commission President Bill Mertens explained that they had just begun the budget process in the county, “Today we went through half the budget hearings and at our next meeting we go through the other half,” he said.

All afternoon was dedicated in ten-minute increments to going through the budgets of the County Recorder’s office, the County Highway Dept., County Sheriff’s office, the IT/GIS Coordinator, the States Attorney’s office, the Devils Lake Municipal Airport, the Lake Region Heritage Center Museum, the County Agent’s office, courthouse buildings and grounds, the tax office, the treasurer’s office, the Lake Region Community Service office, the Auditor’s office, the County Commission’s budget and the Lake Region District Health department.

Mertens also explained how they arrive at the mills for the county and how land valuations are determined. “The biggest factor here has been the dramatic increase in ag land valuations,” he explained.

Rep. Dennis Johnson, who was present at the meeting, as well, helped clear up some misconceptions and misunderstandings. “We are going to have to wait until the next session to deal with these problems,” he said.

He pointed out that 70 percent of the county’s budget is K-12 funding and that they would be looking at that, too, when they return to the legislature.

A number of questions were asked about state mandates as opposed to local control. “When does local control enter in?” asked Eric Boren.

Others’ comments were made about the state’s rainy day fund, what happens when all this revenue dries up, land values five years ago as opposed to today’s and the heavy burden of social service funding.

Boren explained why he was concerned and given the results of the vote in June he questioned whether they did the right thing keeping property taxes. “Where’s the local control if all this is mandated by the state?” he asked.

Mertens responded to him, “This is it right here. This is where the local control enters in, with this hearing and with what we are attempting to do as we go through the budgets one by one,” he said.

He continued to explain how each office’s budget is scrutinized before it is approved and along the process how changes are made. The budgets are finalized at the first commission meeting in October.

Steve Britsch summed it all up following the exchange, “We are asking you, keep the spending as reasonable as possible. You’ve got the right idea,” he said