School district, city hearings Dec. 10.

    A Polk County budget/levy meeting brought a handful of residents to the county board room Thursday, all of whom had questions regarding taxes on their properties. Staff and commissioners in attendance looked over the statements and answered the taxpayers' questions as best they could with the information provided, noting that they would send written explanations promptly once the cases were thoroughly reviewed.

    While each case had different circumstances, all involved significant increases in taxes payable in 2013 that the property owners questioned but did not necessarily dispute. Changes in classifications due to inheritance and other reclassification factors were determined to be the likely culprits, along with soaring agricultural land values.  

    "Unfortunately, it's what's happening all over," said Commissioner Warren Affeldt. "Land prices are going up, up, up."

    "I don't see any signs of it abating yet, either," added Michelle Cote, director of property records.

    Affeldt, himself a semi-retired farmer, suggested that those who live on a farmstead stay there as long as they can, or have a family member live there, so they can keep getting the homestead credit. Otherwise, the taxes will double.
    "You really notice how much they go up," he said.

    Gary Letnes of rural Crookston, who regularly attends the annual budget meetings, said he wants to know where the extra $3,000 in property taxes will be spent that he pays next year. He suggested that the county would have extra dollars in its coffers, between the increased levy and market values.

    "Somebody's going to be paying $3,000 less in taxes," Commissioner Don Dietrich explained. "We levy for our budget needs, which are essentially the same as last year. We can't even look at the land values. What changes is how they're distributed among taxpayers, and the ag land is getting his when the market is up."

    There are also fewer new homes being built in the county, he added, but costs don't go down, so the increase have to be absorbed somewhere.

    Administrator Chuck Whiting said that after several discussions with the board, they've determined that the levy increase can be lowered from three to two-and-a-half percent, which is set for approval at the Dec. 18 meeting.

    Earlier Thursday, commissioners ratified a tentative employment agreement with AFSCME for 2013 through 2015. The wage increase for the first year is five percent, with two percent for each of the following two years. Whiting said agreements must still be reached with five other employee groups, which will likely be similar. The five percent bump, he explained, is backtracking to compensate for no salary increases for two years in a row.

    "Our lower-than-expected health insurance costs will balance out the cost to the county," he added.