Wadena County Commissioners met for a special meeting on July 19. The goal of this meeting was to discuss various aspects of county finances, from property taxes to budgetary concerns.
Budgetary concerns were a main issue of discussion. Much of the debate focused on problems stemming from corrections. Jails are full and agents are without vehicles necessary to do their jobs. Additionally, Human Services is in need of personnel increases. County Commissioner, Jim Hofer attempted to explain the problem. “We have more people on probation than we did 10 years ago,” stated Hofer. Any changes to the current budget had to be devised with a long term focus, Hofer added.
On the subject of equipment and vehicles. The board was concerned for the lack of transportation available to county workers and law enforcement. Much of the meeting was spent contemplating whether to purchase new vehicles or to lease. Board members explained that vehicles are often driven until they have little to no trade value and municipalities often hold off on buying new vehicles until a large number of their fleet is out of commission. Board members were stifled by the overwhelming cost of replacing vehicles in mass and thought perhaps leasing would be a better option. They also enjoyed the fact that maintenance and upkeep on these vehicles is usually taken care of at no cost. It was decided that commissioners would meet with Enterprise Fleet Management regarding an increase in city vehicles. They were scheduled to meet with them Tuesday, July 23. The tentative plan they arrived at was to purchase two sheriff's department vehicles this year and three next year. Also Human Services would receive two new vehicles.
Property taxes were another main topic that had board members questioning the affordability of building homes in Wadena County. Statistics were presented illustrating Wadena County’s place in the realm of property taxes. Wadena County was shown to have a net tax capacity rate of 87.817, one of the highest in the state of Minnesota. Statistics also showed that a homestead valued at $150,000 required $1,108.78 in property taxes per year. “They wish the taxes didn’t go up every year,” commented Charles Horsager when the group addressed the tax impact on people living in Wadena County.
Commissioner Jon Kangas was looking for a solution to the longstanding financial problem. “What do we need to do to convince people to build in Wadena County?” asked Kangas. He further expounded on the difficulties associated with building in the area. He and other commissioners agreed that it was quickly approaching a point of unaffordability. Commissioners ultimately formed a tax disparity aid committee.
The meeting progressed onto the topic of strategic planning on the county level. Commissioners agreed that as a county, they need to better plan with various department heads, identify what needs to be done, and what they can do better. This discussion had them contemplating the organizational factors of the region. “Where do we see this county five years out,” said Hofer. This discussion ended with commissioners looking for ways to collaborate with other counties. “We should keep our attention up and look for ways we can work with other counties,” said Commissioner Bill Stearns.
This special meeting served as a means to address certain problems within the county, much of which were financial or budgetary. The meeting was comprised of mostly discussion with concrete resolutions being decided at a later date.