District 2 Polk 
County Commissioner
Warren Strandell
East Grand Forks

    People often say, “Well, I guess that’s just the way it is.”

    And they are right. At least for the moment, things are just the way that they are. That may be good. Maybe it isn’t. Maybe they should be changed.

    Whatever, at least for the moment, that’s the way things are.
It is the same in local government.  Things are what they are. Some are good. Some aren’t. And some need changing.
In Polk County, for the most part, things are pretty much okay. The things/situations that are in good stead are generally in that frame because of what was done to put them in order.

    That’s what government is supposed to do… put and keep things in order.

    This is best accomplished by looking down the road… by trying to anticipate and prepare for address issues before they become issues.  For us as commissioners, the county’s business can’t be just what is on our plate at the moment. Future issues and needs must be identified, planned for and addressed — including, of course, the all-important consideration of how to pay for them — long before they become a problem.

The report card

    As commissioners, we try to do that. The report card on that work will likely either keep us in office or give the job to someone else.

    But it isn’t just commissioners who have a role in this mission of looking ahead. This involves a team effort a big part of which involves staff… the people who have inside knowledge about what will need to be replaced, protected, updated, provided for, etc. In their roles, each of them knows best the ability, capability and condition of equipment, buildings, roads, etc.

  Department heads, by their nature, always want to do more and do it better. Thus, they often vigorously promote investments in that endeavor. These improvements always cost money. Commissioners have to make a judgment about whether this is really good and needed and, if so, how to pay the bill.

    This is a challenging situation in which department heads work to justify their proposals by spouting their value and importance. If convinced that the move is the right one, commissioners then have to be able to defend the expense to their constituents… those taxpayers who determine their time in office.

    Saying  “no” to everything is just as much bad government as is saying “yes.” In that context, each issue is thoroughly considered… not just for the moment but for the long term.

    Polk County commissioners, I believe, have done a good job of keeping things in order and on track without increasing the levy — the levy being the amount of property tax money needed to pay for the delivery of county services) — more than absolutely necessary. Not dealing with the issues in advance is almost always the worth possible outcome.

Controlled spending

    County levy increases over the past 10 years have averaged 2.574%. That average is in line with inflation. The cost of everything goes up, government included.

    The offset for many of us has been that the county’s total property valuation — the tax base — has been going up as well and now totals $5.62 billion.

    Included in that growth in valuation is that which comes from the “new construction.” A total of $25.65 million in new construction came on the tax rolls in 2017. This new valuation helps to pay for a lot of the cost of levy increases.

    Of note on the tax subject is that tillable ag landowners are finally getting a break after having shouldered significant valuation increases in recent years. The average valuation of ag land — these valuations being determined by sale prices — decreased 6% countywide in the 2018 assessment.

    So, where is this discussion going?

    First, no one likes to pay taxes. That’s a given. But taxes are necessary to pay for law enforcement, roads and all of the services that counties are required to provide. Efficiency has been the focus for all of us who are involved in that role and in trying to be ready and prepared for the days ahead.

In good shape

    Polk County is in good shape going forward. Our finances are good, our buildings have been maintained are in good shape and so is our road infrastructure. While there will always be the need for a new roof, updating heating system, or addressing some unexpected development, we don’t have any really big needs on the table.

    That includes the foreseeable future. On top of that, our existing bond debt will be paid off in a few years.

    So, that’s the way things are… for the moment. Outside of a major weather event or some other sudden change beyond our control, there are no major issues on the table… that’s, of course, other than making sure that that things are kept on track.
    
    Thoughts expressed in this column are those of the author and are not necessarily a reflection of the opinions of the other members of the Polk County Board of

Commissioners