Wright County Board Minutes

DECEMBER 3, 2019 6:00 P.M.
The Wright County Board met in special session at 6:00 P.M. with Husom, Vetsch, Potter, Daleiden and Borrell present.
Darek Vetsch, County Board Chair, welcomed the members of the public who were present. The purpose of this meeting is to provide an opportunity for citizens to review the presentation of the proposed 2020 County Budget. County Board and staff were available for questions and answers after the presentation. The Assessor’s staff were also present to answer questions regarding individual property values.
Lee Kelly, County Administrator, discussed the presentation on the 2020 Budget. He described the budget process as outlined on Slide 3. Forecasting for the next year and continuation of current year projects begins in May with the Capital Improvement Plan (CIP). Department information is gathered into workbooks in July and presented to Commissioners in August, with a preliminary budget and tax levy adopted on 9/24/19. This meeting was an opportunity for the public to give input to the County Board before the final budget is adopted later in December.
The Property Taxes Timeline – Statutory slide shows how property value is determined. Bob Hiivala, Auditor/Treasurer, used Commissioner Michael Potter’s property statement as an example, and explained the types of information found on it.
Kelly moved to the Market Value Questions slide. He encouraged people with questions about their property classification or market value talk to Assessor staff who were present. Potter said the County sends a Board of Equalization notice in March of every year to notify property owners about a public meeting where they may challenge their property valuations for the next year. The March meeting is the date and time property owners may challenge their valuations.
Kelly directed attention to the next slide, Your Tax Dollars At Work, which lists County services such as roads and bridges, public safety, libraries, vital records, public health, social services and environmental services. Highway maintenance costs each person in the County $4.38 per month, parks and trails cost $1.35 per month, public safety and emergency response is $15.44 per month, and library services cost $1.35 per month.
Kelly said current projects include the new Justice Center building, which is set to open in the summer of 2020. The new Government Center building and the Tactical Training Center will open in 2021 and 2020, respectively. Administration is wrapping up a two-year Classification and Compensation Study for wages that will make the County a more competitive employer. Kelly said quite a few capital improvement projects are progressing without using reserves. A large project is Enterprise Resource Planning, which will provide all Departments and Commissioners with one source of data.
The proposed 2020 Budget is set at $160,949,532. The 2020 levy is set at $78,587,512, which is a 6.7 percent preliminary levy increase. Tax capacity growth is estimated at 6.63 percent. The levy percentage increase is not the same as the property tax percentage increase.
Kelly went on to the 2020 Budget Revenues slide. Property taxes comprise 49 percent of County revenue. The remaining revenue is from State Categorical Aid (17%), Charges for Services (13%), Federal Grants (9%), State General Purpose Aid (4%), and Other (8%).
The 2020 Budget Spending pie chart shows categories of expenditures. Kelly directed attention to the next slide titled How Every $100 Are Spent. Hiivala explained that $20 of every $100 is spent on General Government, $20 on Public Safety, $8 on Highway Operation, $12 on Highway Construction, $16 on Human Services, $8 on Debt Service, $3 on Public Health, $3 on Culture and Recreation, $8 on Capital Outlay, and $2 on Miscellaneous expenses.
Last year the County Board set a goal to create a stable and predictable tax rate. Kelly referred to the slide titled Past Capacity vs. Tax Rate, 2013-2020. The left side of the chart shows an increased tax capacity of about six percent. The right side of the chart shows the instability of past tax rates from 2013 to 2020. This year the tax rate was maintained at about 6.7 percent. Hiivala added that the goal is to maintain small increases versus large spikes.
Regarding 2020 Tax Impacts, Kelly said there are many factors that determine property taxes. The property classification, value changes, school district, township or city levies, and legislative changes can all affect how much property tax is assessed against a property. If a property value stayed the same this year, the impact from the County portion of the property tax will remain small. Hiivala said there are three categories of property: residential, commercial, and agricultural. Commercial property owners pay twice as many property taxes as residential.
Kelly opened the meeting for public comment at 6:20 P.M.
Lane Roschen, St. Michael: Roschen said he could not find the PowerPoint presentation for this meeting on the County website. It should have been posted a week ago in the spirit of transparency. Vetsch said the proposed budget information is on the website.
Roschen said there was a strong reaction against the new Government Center project. When citizens brought the reverse referendum petition to the County Board, it was dismissed. He said citizens should have a direct say regarding whether that level of capital expenditure should be put in place. Michael Potter, County Commissioner, said the County sought three legal opinions on the matter, who found that the petition did not comply with State Statute.
Discussion continued regarding the merits of the reverse referendum process, whether the County should have accepted the petition even though it did not comply with State Statute, and the type of funding option the County chose for the new Government Center building.
John Uecker, Annandale: Uecker said the reverse referendum process and the funding process for the building should have been better explained to citizens.
Roschen asked that the County do whatever possible to ensure greater transparency and opportunities for citizen input, especially regarding controversial issues.
Discussion continued regarding the best media to keep the public informed, and how the new Monticello Nuclear Power Plant valuation will affect the County.
Roschen asked whether there is information on the County website regarding County debt service and when it will be paid. County Commissioner Mark Daleiden said it is posted online. Vetsch said it should be easier to find. Hiivala said the annual financial statement is also on the website. Roschen said the chart relating to Past Capacity vs. Tax Rate, 2013-2020 should be revised to include a total of 20 years.
Mary Wetter, Buffalo/Rockford Township: Wetter asked how much the County is supposed to keep in reserves, and the interest rate earned on those funds. Vetsch said the County has to have sufficient funds to cash flow for the first half of the year. This usually draws down the Reserve Fund by about 25 percent. The remaining 50 percent is used as an emergency fund to avoid having to liquidate investments. It takes a long time to build the Reserve Fund back up. Potter said State guidelines say the reserve must be at least three to six months of operating expenses. Currently the Reserve Fund is at approximately 4.48 months. Potter prefers the six-month range. Hiivala said the reserves are invested and reflected in the General Government Fund.
Stephen Smith, Buffalo: Smith asked how much bond debt the County holds. Hiivala said it is about $160 million. Smith said the County did not inform citizens adequately regarding the recent $60 million bond, or allow them the opportunity to vote or provide input on it. Potter said there was no negative response when the Law Enforcement Center and Justice Center bonds were issued. The only public reaction was regarding the new Government Center. Smith said the County used a different process for the new Government Center. Potter said the County used the Certificate of Participation process that did not require a reverse referendum to stop the project. Vetsch said the County hasn’t used that process before to his knowledge, but Cities in Wright County have used this type of financing. The advantages include better interest rates and the ability to prepay, versus having to wait for a call date on a bond.
Vetsch encouraged Smith to contact his Commissioner whenever he has a concern.
The meeting adjourned at 7:38 P.M.
Published in the Herald Journal Jan. 3, 2020.