On Tuesday night the Polk County Commissioners held their annual public meeting to go over the 2020 budget and tax levy. The tax levy increase is currently at 3.35%, which is more than 2% below the preliminary levy of 5.5% set in September.
Polk County Administrator Chuck Whiting said both he and the commissioners will continue to review the budget up until December 17 when they will finalize the budget and tax levy. “There is still some refinement we’re talking about to maybe get it down closer to 3 percent,” said Whiting. “Tonight, we’ll have a hearing on the budget, people ask questions and a lot of time people at this meeting talk to us about their valuations for their tax statement, and we try to be responsive to that as well. After today the last meeting of the year will be December 17 and then we’ll have all the resolutions in order for approving the 2020 budget.”
The 2020 budget will include a number of notable items including an additional custodian position, an additional Wellness Coordinator and possibly a new Human Services Manager in Social Services. The county also is planning significant construction projects to both highways and building, but Whiting said the county may be able to lower the levy to closer to 3% before December 17. “We’ve got contracts for unions looking at about a 2.5% increase across the board and contributions to the cafeteria (benefits) plan,” said Whiting. “We have got three ‘new’ positions in the budget. Two are one additional of each (position), and we’re still talking about the third which would be a new position. Our preliminary levy was at 5.5%, we’re currently at 3.35% and that might come down a little bit more yet. We did borrow money in 2019 to spend in 2020 on highways. That’s about $5.5-6 million, so we’ll have quite a bit of construction going on next year. And we’re still working on improving the building over in East Grand Forks and looking at a capital improvement bond for that. So, plenty of things to do.”
The capital improvement bond would be for $3.1 million and would be payable on the levy beginning in 2021. The current tax levy would generate $24,319,011 for the county or about 36% of the county’s annual budget. During the last few years property values and the tax capacity in the county have seen about the same increase each year but with the difficulties in ag this past year Whiting said the 2021 budget could be more difficult to put together. “The levy itself for the county has been increasing at about the same rate as the tax capacity of the county has,” said Whiting. “But, we’re pretty aware of the difficulties the ag properties, in particular, have faced the last couple of months. That will start showing up in 2020 as values, sales and things like that start rejiggering everything. It may be tougher putting together the 2021 budget a year from now.”