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No increase in county levy for coming year (09/16/2012)
By Sarah Squires

Property taxes won’t rise—at least not Winona County’s share—in 2013. Commissioners last week adopted a zero percent increase for the preliminary levy amount.

The zero percent increase means the county will likely collect the same amount, $16.97 million, from county property taxes in 2013 as it did in 2012. Commissioners may still trim the budget before final adoption in December, but cannot raise the levy beyond the preliminary zero percent peg. The county's entire budget is $45 million.

County leaders must still trim about $200,000 in order to reach the zero percent levy figure. County Administrator Duane Hebert told the board that since the county typically collects about $300,000 above expenditures each year, a surplus at the end of 2012 will probably cover that deficit.

Collecting $300,000 over budgeted expenditures occurs because of a major overhaul in the way the county handles and plans its finances. Between 2003 and 2009, the county collected more than $2.5 million on average over and above expenditures each year from taxpayers, a trend identified in stories in the Winona Post. Shortly after a series of stories ran in the newspaper, the county hired an outside firm to conduct a full financial systems analysis, and has since restructured its financial systems. Rather than having budget planning done in individual departments for worst-case scenarios, the budgeting process has been pooled into a central finance department, and county commissioners have changed policies to provide for more budgetary oversight.

The zero percent increase for 2013 marks the fourth year in a row that Winona County had adopted either no tax increase or dropped the levy, Hebert told the board.

Commissioner Marcia Ward warned that just because the county is not going to raise property taxes does not mean that landowners will not see increases in 2013 taxes, with other taxing authorities affecting the bottom line. Additionally, land valuations play a big part in determining property tax bills, and for agricultural land those values often fluctuate, she said.

Ward asked that the board be given a more detailed analysis of departmental budgets when it reviews proposed spending, rather than a 150-plus page spreadsheet of line items. She asked that things such as payroll and programs be compiled for each department, along with a small explanation of any changes or goals, so that the board can have a better grasp of changes from year to year. 


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