County commissioners want more counties to join them in fight to lower tax rate
A callout to other counties with a similar predicament may help them strengthen their voice in the state.
WADENA — You may call it a circling of the wagons, a cry for help or an attempt to bring change, but the Wadena County Commission plans to ask other counties to join them in their desire to lower property tax rates.
It’s no secret that Wadena County is in the top three for highest property tax rates in the state. A higher tax rate means property owners are taxed more on their property than someone in a different county with the same or similar property value. Wadena County has a higher tax rate in order to cover costs of basic government services due to a smaller tax capacity.
Wadena County Commissioners know it and bring it up at almost every meeting, especially during their once a month strategic planning meeting. The simple fact is that other Minnesota counties are above the median level of taxation and perhaps would rather not have that added burden on them. Stearns felt now was the time to get more counties on board to back them up and equalize the tax rate.
“I was wondering if we want to stir the pot a bit,” Stearns said. The idea was well received.
The board gave consensus during their once-a-month workshop meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 9, to ask other counties to join them in seeking a more balanced level of taxation.
Commissioner Bill Stearns brought up the idea and shared an email from the Association of Minnesota Counties who will convene in September to discuss priority issues. While he will be unable to attend, he asked board member Murlyn Kreklau to skip out on his committee meetings to speak to the issue that the board has brought forward in the past – the desire for parity in property tax rates across the 87 counties.
Stearns recommendation was to send out a worksheet that showed the difference in tax rates between all the counties. This could go out to all the commissioners and county administrators in a county with a tax rate above .6. The median tax rate in the state is .45, according to Stearns.
The hope was the conversation would sink in prior to the AMC Fall Policy Conference.
“If we get another bunch of counties there to start rattling the cages …” Stearns said it might start to change minds. The commission lamented that too many decisions are made by metro representatives without a voice from the underrepresented counties.
Kreklau also brought forth an idea and suggested that the county survey about 15 similar counties in the state to get information on similarities and differences on how they run their county government. He suggested that they could quite easily get information on population, numbers of employees, staff sizes by department, tax rates and tax capacities.
“Maybe we’ll find we’re doing something,” Kreklau said. “I don’t envision this costing us a lot of time or money.”
Wadena County Coordinator Ryan Odden said he would speak with AMC staff to come up with a good survey to go out to counties and get some feedback.