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Hubbard County sets 2017 budget and levy

The Hubbard County Board of Commissioners approved the 2017 Final Levy last week, setting it at $13,900,000 which is a 3.7 percent increase from 2016 when they set the levy at $13,400,000; the levy has been steadily increasing since 2012.

The 2017 Final Budget was set at $37,589,787; expenditures were set at $39,648,559 with expenditures over revenues being $2,058,772. In 2016, the final budget's total revenues were $35,173,400 while expenditures for the 2016 final budget were $34,433,507.

At the Truth in Taxation Meeting for the proposed 2017 Budget and Levy last week, Hubbard County Auditor/Treasurer Kay Rave explained to the general public that the Hubbard County board of commissioners had set the 2017 Preliminary Levy at $14,100,000 back in September.

The Preliminary Budget for 2017 was set at $40,405,613 on Sept. 20 which would have been a 7.1 percent increase over last year and expenditures for the 2017 preliminary budget were $40,276,232 which would have been a 14 percent increase.

According to Rave, the major factors that changed the budget for 2017 included increased salary and wages for new positions. The overall general fund expenditures increased $2,356,983 (over 16 percent) which included aerial mapping updates, expanding and upgrading technology services for the taxpayers, upgrades to the emergency 911 software, increased social services mandates to providing services, office revisions; in total, wages only account for less than three percent of the 16 percent increase in the levy.

In a breakdown, Rave showed that 40 percent of paid property taxes go to the county, 24 percent go to the schools, 14 percent goes to the townships, 13 percent goes to the state, eight percent goes to the city and one percent goes to the HRA and ERDC.

"Overall we have very small changes whether it's an increase or a decrease," Rave said regarding the changes to the tax capacity rates from 2016 to 2017. "Except you might notice in Hart Lake Township the proposed tax rate went to 19.316 percent from 32.102 percent, a 12.786 percent decrease also Akeley City had a 15.488 percent decrease."

"By the end of September, we are mandated to set a preliminary levy and budget. We can decrease it but by statute we cannot increase the levy," Rave said as explanation to members of the public present at the meeting. "The proposed statement that you receive in the mail is the highest tax that you'll pay, we expect and anticipate that this levy will go down thus making your taxes go down some."

"The preliminary generally gets set and you know you're going to come down from that and that's our goal throughout this whole process," Commissioner Cal Johannsen added.

Social Services Director, Deb Vizecky had originally submitted her levy request for $3,300,000; commissioners lowered the request by $200,000 to $3,100,000.

Vizecky showed concerns about lowering the levy and the possible effects it could have if they needed to tap into the social services reserves after not having levied enough to cover the costs of mandated services.

Johannsen reminded the board that by lowering the social services levy for this coming year may cause them to pull money from the reserves and that they may have to consider setting the levy higher the following year.

"We need about $2.5 million to have a healthy fund balance. We don't know what will happen, social services can be very volatile," Rave said about the possible effects of lowering the social services levy. "I agree it should be higher and right now you're looking at a $5.6 million fund balance if December expenses are consistent between 500,000 and 600,000."

"Looking at the numbers, it appears that we've been taxing the property owners so that social services can build their reserves," Rave said. "I feel that if we raise the taxes and continue to do that we're simply taxing property owners to build a reserve. We have enough."

Road and Bridge also saw a reduction in the levy they had originally set, they submitted their levy request at $3,088,300 which was cut by $88,300 to $3,000,000.

Vizecky questioned whether or not other departments saw the same cuts as social services and road and bridge.

"All the other department's budgets are much smaller. In previous budget talks they've said 'well what if we took five percent off of everyone's budgets?' Well, with auditor/ treasurer it's (the budget) made up of staff and some supplies so to take off five percent would mean a position," Rave explained. "Our budgets just can't absorb as much as road and bridge or social services that are millions of dollars."

After much discussion and considered outcomes the Hubbard County Board of Commissioners did decrease and approve the 2017 final levy and budget from the preliminary budget that was set earlier this fall.