Commissioners question Hoffman on tax shiftPublished 10:44am Wednesday, September 21, 2011
The Otter Tail County Board of Commissioners told State Sen. Gretchen Hoffman on Tuesday that local units of government will take the heat this year when, in fact, the state legislature shifted the tax burden to the local level.neighboring
“The state budget was balanced on the backs of local taxpayers,” said County Commissioner Doug Huebsch. “We’ve been prudent in our county budget process and have put in place hiring freezes. Nonetheless, we’ll be forced to ask county residents to increase their local tax burden just to meet basic services.”
That’s because, for 2012, the county will not receive about $2.3 million from the state that was previously promised.
“We were blindsided with the loss of the state-paid market value homestead credit,” said County Administrator Larry Krohn.
The elimination of the homestead credit totals about $1.8 million for 2012 and the loss of county program aid for next year amounts to close to $500,000.
A Truth in Taxation public meeting will be held, starting at 6:30 p.m., on Monday, Nov. 28, in the County Government Services Center, Fergus Falls. Following public input, the county board must adopt a final budget and levy before the end of December 2011.
Meeting with county commissioners Tuesday at the County Government Services Center in Fergus Falls, Hoffman said that down the road local units of government will be better able to incorporate financial transparency, accountability and determination of outcomes.
While admitting that the tax shift is a burden this year, she said that in future years local units of government, including cities and counties, will be able to do better financial planning without waiting to see what the state will provide in county program aid and homestead credits.
“At the state level, we can’t spend what we don’t take in,” said Hoffman.
County commissioners told Hoffman that they are like many residents statewide who were frustrated by the lack of compromise which led to a state shutdown this past summer.
“There was a lack of leadership on both sides (Democrats and Republicans),” said Commissioner Lee Rogness. “Leadership, sorely missing, isn’t a cost to taxpayers. It’s something that should be expected.”
Hoffman and commissioners agreed that the state can and should eliminate duplication of efforts among various units of state government. Consolidation of counties was another key issue discussed at the county board meeting.
Huebsch pointed out that Otter Tail County has close to 58,000 residents. Next door, in Wlkin County, there are only about 6,000 residents. He added that California, one of the largest states, has only about 30 counties.
“State legislative leadership is needed to address the issue of county consolidation,” said Huebsch. “Changes need to be made.”
Rogness added that while it is well and good that Otter Tail County and adjoining counties combine to provide needed services, there needs to be some order to the process. That’s where the state legislature can and should come into the picture, he said.
Hoffman agreed to meet with the county board on a periodic basis.