COOK COUNTY, MINNESOTA October 4, 2019 (LSN) The Cook County Budget Committee met on September 16 to do a final review of budget requests and issues prior to the county board setting a preliminary levy. The committee heard from the highway engineer regarding the use of overtime, the reallocation of health care savings into bridge reserves and transportation sales tax projects scheduled for 2020.
The committee reviewed the current county budget summary proposing a 6.05% levy increase for 2020. The summary reflected the proposed cuts to the Thye-Blatnik federal payment in lieu of taxes, increases in funding for building repair and maintenance projects, a small increase in health insurance, reductions in bond payments, and the start of a capital reserve fund for future projects.
The committee also considered the effects of a significant increase in the 2020 tax base due to a change in classification of vacation rental properties and vacant land, as well as new construction. These changes drove an increase of 7.8% in tax base for 2020 taxes, which could result in 2020 property tax decreases for some homeowners. The analysis showed a reduction in county taxes of $18 for a $200,000 homestead (with no change in valuation or classification).
That knowledge was tempered by the news that the Department of Revenue has strongly advised moving many of these vacation rental properties to commercial classification for 2021, the result of which would be to roll back some of the 2020 gain in valuation. The committee also discussed a 2018 report that identified Cook County as being 4th highest in median home value and having the 2nd lowest tax rate in Minnesota. Those numbers highlight the complexity of the Minnesota tax system and the danger in using a single statistic to describe the tax situation in Cook County.
The committee discussed the pros and cons of setting a levy at 6.05%, with the option to lower it in December. The proposed $751,000 annual Thye-Blatnik cut weighed heavily on the discussion, as the final decision from the USDA Forest Service is not expected until November/December. There was general consensus on the rationale for a 6.05% proposed levy increase that can be reduced in December, with one voice strongly recommending expense justifications and reductions to reach a 0% proposed levy increase.
The committee looked at two requests by arts organizations for funding totaling $14,000 for 2020. There was disagreement in general over arts funding (an allowable expenditure by counties per Minnesota statutes) on both a philosophical basis in general and on a need basis for one of the organizations. There was no consensus found on this issue. The requests fall within the overall arts limit of $15,200 set by the county board in an earlier meeting.
Minnesota law requires counties to approve a preliminary levy no later than September 30 each year and at the same meeting to set the time, date and location of the public meeting to discuss county budgets and levies (known as “Truth in Taxation”). The Truth in Taxation (TNT) meeting must be held after November 24 and no later than December 30 and must not end before 6 p.m. The committee discussed avoiding the holidays and the Association of Minnesota Counties annual meeting, deciding to recommend December 5 at 6 p.m. as the date and time for the TNT meeting.
The group noted that the budget mailer that is included with the parcel-specific notices needs to be completed within two weeks to meet the publication deadline. It was also noted that adjustments to levy requests will likely continue as new information becomes available. Those changes will be accumulated and presented to the board of commissioners for possible inclusion in the final budget.
Additional budget information is available under the Administration section of the Cook County website, https://www.co.cook.mn.us/.
By: Cook County Auditor-Treasurer, Braidy Powers
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Cook County is at the tip of Minnesota's Arrowhead region in the remote northeastern part of the state, stretching from the shores of Lake Superior to the US-Canada border. By land it borders Ontario, Canada to the north, and Lake County, MN to the west. The highest point in Minnesota, Eagle Mountain is 2,301 feet and the highest lake, Total Area equals 3,339.72 sq miles
Cook County is home to three national protected areas:
Grand Portage National Monument
Superior National Forest
Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness
Cook County include:
Grand Marais Lutsen Mountains
Gunflint Trail Superior Hiking Trail
Fall Colors Minnesota
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