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Wadena County residents voice concerns over preliminary tax levy during Truth In Taxation hearing

Members of the Wadena County Board of Commissioners and Heather Olson, auditor/treasurer for Wadena County, heard complaints from multiple county residents concerning a proposed 10.37% property tax levy increase during their Truth In Taxation hearing on Nov. 28.

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Members of the Wadena County Board of Commissioners hold a Truth in Taxation hearing on Nov. 28, 2022.
Screenshot / Zoom / Wadena County Board of Commissioners
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WADENA — Multiple Wadena County residents voiced their concerns over a potential 10.37% increase in their property tax levy for 2023 during a Truth In Taxation hearing hosted by county officials.

"Our budget for next year, 2023, is approximately $30 million," said Bill Stearns, commissioner for District 3, during the meeting. "The county levy for 2023 is approximately $10 million, so the extra $20 million between our budget and what we levy for is paid for by the state and federal government in special grants for human services, for public safety, and for different other things."

The Nov. 28 meeting featured a presentation by Heather Olson, auditor/treasurer for Wadena County, who explained the county's budgetary concerns for 2023 and why the preliminary tax levy was set higher.

"By state statute, when you pass your preliminary levy by Sept. 30 ... you then cannot raise the levy from that Sept. 30 deadline, it can only go down from there," said Olson. She added, back in September, county officials were worried about possible increases in costs to health care and other services, so the preliminary levy was set higher to account for those increases.

Olson said she's also been investing funds differently to account for higher interest rates to receive a better return on the county's investments, which would cut as much as 3% off the preliminary levy amount. Additional savings, she said, could come from county departments sharing some staff members to eliminate the need for additional full-time employees, which also saves money.

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"Some of the money I'm reinvesting right now, we were getting like 0.35% on, and now I'm turning around and investing it for 5.1%," she said. "In my office, we opted to share a staff member with a different office and that basically cut a full-time staff person between the two offices. And those things ... when it's a full employee like that, it saves a lot of money."

During the meeting, Olson explained the 28.85% increase in the county's human services budget was due to increased wages, which was driven primarily by a county-wide wage study from a few years ago.

"At this point, the commissioners have made no decisions to cut any services," said Olson.

Many area residents said they were worried the large tax increase could tax them out of their homes, especially for those on a fixed income.

"Quit raising seniors' taxes," one resident said. "How in the heck are all of us older seniors suppose to go out and get a job and help pay for all these increases?"

Other residents raised concerns about how wages haven't increased more than 10%, so why should the tax levy?

"So, you are starting to tax people right out of their property," one man said during the meeting.

Olson said she was thrilled to see so many residents show up and participate in the budget and levy process because it gives them the opportunity to learn about these procedures that happen every year.

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"I always feel people should participate in local government," said Olson. "It's eye-opening for people to learn and to know what is actually going on at their local level ... and I love it when people are engaging because it's their money and they need to know what's going on."

She added that she plans to bring the final levy request to the Wadena County Board meeting on Dec. 13 for discussion and a possible approval vote.

The Wadena County Board of Commissioners must approve the county's final tax levy by Dec. 28 in order to be in compliance with state law.

Lead Multimedia Reporter for the Detroit Lakes Tribune and the Perham Focus.
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