Wadena County board: Commissioners approve preliminary tax levy at 10.37% increase
That’s a $1,019,019 increase over 2022.
WADENA — While there wasn’t much enthusiasm for it, Wadena County Commissioners passed a preliminary 2023 tax levy that's 10.37% more than the 2022 levy.
That’s a $1,019,019 increase over 2022 and it’s down slightly from a proposed budget two weeks prior. The full levy is at $11,877.317 before a million dollar reduction from County Program Aid.
That amount cannot go higher, but can be lowered prior to approval of the final levy in December.
Commissioners went back and forth on the issue, at first letting a motion to approve from Commissioner Mike Weyer die due to a lack of a second. After more discussion, Commissioner Murlyn Kreklau made the same motion, with Weyer giving the second. The motion passed with Commissioner Bill Stearns also showing support. Commissioner Jon Kangas voted against and Sheldon Monson was absent.
With a general lack of interest in passing the large increase, Stearns asked commissioners Kreklau and Kangas if it was the budget committee's recommendation to move ahead at the 10.37% increase. Kreklau did not say it was their recommendation, rather, “This is the reality of where we are.”
County auditor/treasurer Heather Olson said an investment change of $37,000 could be attributed to some of the reduction in the levy from two weeks ago. She noted no other drastic changes.
Driving the budget increases is a $586,455 increase in costs in Human Services; and $156,676 in the Sheriff's Office. Public Health, Building Fund and Road and Bridge showed no increase from 2022.
One of the biggest concerns in the decision to approve the levy is that the county still has not heard back on how insurance costs may change. County Coordinator Ryan Odden said he expects to hear in the last week of September. The county is currently projecting a 10% increase in insurance costs, but variations from that could throw a wrench in the budget.
Olson called the increase “atrocious.” But she also expected large changes before the final budget is approved this winter. She made it clear she does not want to be dipping into reserves to cover expenses beyond what’s expected. Kangas responded that taxpayers are dipping into their reserves and depleting their savings, so, maybe the county will have to do the same.
“The solution is not dipping into cash reserves,” Olson repeated.
Kreklau said that every commissioner and every department head needs to come up with a plan for cuts or he’d consider an across the board cut.
Odden defended staff and shared that they have been bringing forth cost savings in some departments that have created no increased expenses for that department despite significant increases in payroll costs.
“It isn’t getting ignored by department staff,” Odden said.
Kangas said there are services that the county could cut to save money.
“This county can’t continue in this direction and it is wage driven,” Kangas said.
Olson said that beyond salaries, “there’s not a lot of meat there.” Meaning there’s little else that can be trimmed.
County attorney Kyra Ladd shared that numerous talking points were brought up at a recent personnel committee meeting that should be considered – one of those being the need to settle contracts earlier.
The board discussed at length the desire to find areas where the county could make cuts but made no formal recommendations or took action to that end.
On a different topic, but one that relates to this, Kreklau shared that he and Odden visited with the Association of Minnesota Counties Rural Caucus about their hopes to get increased aid coming to counties like Wadena County that are at a disadvantage to others due to tax disparity.
The group reasoned that they have more work to do to gain more interest from other counties that are also at a disadvantage due to a low tax base. Kreklau said that one of the silly responses he heard from those in attendance was that perhaps people in Wadena County should just move.