At its meeting this morning (Sept. 28) the Wright County Board of Commissioners approved the draft certified levy of $87,257,925, which represents a 5.75 percent levy increase from last year’s budget.
Wright County Administrator Lee Kelly explained that the levy process needs to be completed by the end of September and, once approved by the board, it can’t increase from that point forward. Kelly said this year’s budget process wasn’t easy because, when all departments submitted requests, the initial number (11.98 percent) was more than double what the final levy number turned out being.
“We are required to adopt a preliminary levy prior to Sept. 30,” Kelly said. “We’ve had a number of meetings – both at the staff level and at the board level – over the past few months. I think we did a lot of work this year. We started out with a levy amount of close to 12 percent and whittled that down from there.”
One of the aspects of county budgeting in the wake of the 17.3 percent levy spike in 2018 – the result of a combination of factors that former-Commissioner Mike Potter said was a decade in the making due to a lack of planning from previous boards, saying, “No remembers who was there when the fuse was lit, but they remember who was there when the bomb went off.”
Since then, the county board has strived to keep the tax rate as low as possible and attempting to capture the new construction growth of the county to make the levy amount for landowners try to stay as close to the previous year as possible. The county has no jurisdictions of other taxing entities like cities, townships and school districts, so the county board’s goal was to keeps it portion of the property tax statement as stable and level as possible.
“We’ve tried to be mindful of property values going up and knowing other jurisdictions come into play with people’s individual property taxes,” Kelly said. “We took an effort here to try to keep ours as flat as possible from the county’s portion, while still balancing that we captured the growth of the county.”
The new construction growth of the county (6.6 percent) exceeded the 5.75 percent levy increase, so, with the exception of some properties going up in value, in many cases, the amount of county property tax is effectively remaining the same with the increase being offset by more parcels coming on the tax rolls.
The concept of including new construction and stabilizing the rate at which parcels are taxed was something Commissioner Darek Vetsch said was critical to meet the demands of a growth county like Wright – the third-fastest growing county in the state over the last 10 years – while trying to keep the county’s level consistent and predictable.
“The county board is looking to maintain a flat tax rate using a combination of capturing growth and timing expenses over an extended period of time with the intent of being able to maintain minimal impacts to taxpayers over the long run,” Vetsch said. “We have made a concerted effort over the last few years to incorporate planning and factoring in new construction into our tax base so the impact of the county levy won’t result in a dramatic spike. If we can keep our tax rate flat or close to flat, the new construction will pick up almost all of the increase in the levy by increasing the size of the pie that are contributing into it.”
Wright County Finance Director Lindsey Meyer said the county board is being fiscally responsible while juggling the needs of meeting a larger constituency that demands (and deserves) a high level of service from county government.
“Our county commissioners have made efforts to ensure that we are managing our levy while ensuring that we are addressing the needs of our growing county,” Meyer said. “As you drive through our communities you can see the new construction, which equates to increased need and strain on the services we are currently providing to our citizens. We’ve captured that growth to manage our property tax impact on each business and household while still providing the same level of service that our citizens expect.”
As part of the approval process, the board also authorized a special evening board meeting commonly referred to as the annual Truth in Taxation hearing for 6 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 9.