The Southeastern Minnesota Multi-County Housing and Redevelopment Authority (SEMMCHRA) would like the power to levy property taxes in the counties it serves. If new state legislation is approved, the agency's boardócomprised of members who are not all electedówould have the authority to do it.
Joe Wheeler, SEMMCHRA director, told the St. Charles City Council last week that the bill would allow the SEMMCHRA board to levy 25 percent of its maximum levy amount without the approval of county boards. The money would be used mainly for administrative and overhead costs, he said, as well as for things like emergency assistance and bond shortfalls.
According to numbers sent by SEMMCHRA officials to mayors and county leaders about the potential legislation, 25 percent of the maximum SEMMCHRA levy for Winona County would be over $107,000. Currently, the county provides about $45,000 of that 25 percent maximum levy. According to SEMMCHRA officials, the legislation would not mean that Winona County would pay more, since the levy authority would allow the SEMMCHRA board to levy funds from Dodge County, which currently does not provide funding but receives some benefit from the agency. The figures assume that, with the Dodge County funding, Winona County would pay about $7,000 less to that "25 percent of the maximum levy" fund.
Winona County pays more than the above figures, however. It is mandated to pay $25,000 toward bond payments for the South Fork development in St. Charles, a housing development that has not attracted buyers. The county also pays $55,000 per year for bond payments for two Lewiston housing projects. In the past, Winona County leaders have been unwilling to levy the full amount requested by SEMMCHRA for administrative costs, which in 2012 was $114,000, but did provide about $100,000 total last year for the agency.
Wheeler told the St. Charles City Council that those opposed to the bill had taken issue with the fact that the SEMMCHRA board is not an elected body, and therefore, should not have levy authority. Wheeler argued that his board included two commissioners from the four member counties, along with a mayor and a city council member. "They understand [how] to be good stewards of taxpayers' money," Wheeler said.
Winona County leaders, along with several other member counties, have opposed the legislation. The St. Charles City Council voted unanimously to take no position on the matter.