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County Truth in Taxation meeting attendance sparse

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The Wadena County Board of Commissioners held its required Truth in Taxation public hearing on Dec. 13 at 6 p.m. at the Courthouse. Only 11 members of the public attended. They were outnumbered by the five commissioners and seven county employees on hand to answer questions about the county's 2012 budget and 2011 levy.

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Auditor-Treasurer Char West presented information on the county's proposed 2011 levy and 2012 budget. The 2012 proposed budget is $670,000 lower than last year's budget, and the 2011 proposed levy is exactly the same as last year's, at $7,902,775.

Board Chair Rodney Bounds told the audience of citizens and county employees that county department heads had worked hard to keep their budgets the same or cut them down.

West and Bounds opened the meeting to questions after West's brief presentation ended. Six members of the public asked questions, as follows:

1. Whose fault is it that taxes went up?

2. Is there an average tax increase in the county?

3. Are our taxes going to go up every year?

4. Why won't the state legislature raise income taxes on the super rich?

5. You have the same levy, but we got a tax increase. Is it the state or the feds that did this? Is there anywhere in your budget that you can pinch pennies more?

6. Why do you think we will get hit with higher taxes in the next two years?

No one asked any specific questions about the county's proposed expenditures. The commissioners and department heads did their best to answer the six people who asked questions. Most of their answers included attempts to explain the complicated way that Minnesota raises money from income tax, sales tax, and property tax, and what governmental entities receive revenue from the different forms of taxation.

Commissioners Bill Stearns and Bounds commented on most of the questions. Stearns explained to the group that the counties are agents of the state of Minnesota, and must do what the state tells them to do regarding taxation and mandated programs.

Stearns said, "The state gets its money from the sales tax and income tax, but those sources are decreasing because the baby boomers are retiring. They are earning less than before, or nothing, and so they pay less income tax. They are spending less in retirement, so they pay less sales tax. There is another $5 billion state deficit because of the way the Minnesota Legislature handled the current deficit, and that is going to mean that commercial, seasonal, lakeshore, and agricultural landowners are going to get hit with higher property taxes in the next few years."

The public hearing adjourned at 7 p.m.

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