By Fred Arnold
Houston County Commissioner District 5
Recently, it has been called to the attention of taxpayers that the cumulative increase of the Houston County Levy has been 123% between the years of 2005 and 2016. It may be helpful to consider that during this same time period Houston County added the County Community Services building (former Meyer Furniture building) and Justice Center.
These were sizeable capital investments and expanded county operations to an additional campus. Consider also that during the same time period, the county suffered several natural disasters, including the flood events of August, 2007, September 2008 and 2010. The county recovered from those disasters without having to borrow due to prudent financial planning by those who served before us and provided an adequate “rainy day fund,” which has since been replenished by reimbursement received from state and federal disaster funding.
Part of this money could be used to fund the proposed highway department building project.
Now consider the trend of spending over this same time span. Houston County’s ranking, as compared with the other counties in Minnesota, went from a high of 3rd highest local tax levy increase in 2005 to 36th in 2016. The trend of spending increases has been declining.
• 2005 to 2007 the cumulative rate of increase was 23%.
• 2008 to 2010 the cumulative rate of increase was 21%.
• 2011 to 2013 the cumulative rate of increase was 15% and in the most recent three year period of
• 2014 to 2016 the cumulative rate of increase was 7%.
The other reality that should be mentioned is that if you remove the debt payments on the two large capitol purchases, our cumulative increase is 99% rather than the aforementioned 123%. That debt still has to be paid.
The trends that reflect Houston County is working to rein in spending, and is trying to reduce expenses which is having a positive effect on the overall taxation of constituents. However, we are still in the top half of tax increases in the state over the past three years.
The problem is everyone in county government and most of our constituents want us to do the best job that we can in our services and sometimes ‘best’ equals ‘most costly’ when ‘adequate’ might really be all that we need or want.
Think about it this way: Houston County could save substantial money by cutting out one snow plow truck. What would happen to those folks who get their road plowed a few hours later after a snowfall as a result? What happens if we cut back staffing in law enforcement and response time to accidents, emergencies and crime increases? I feel that this type of decision is what we are going to have to be looking at in all areas come budget time. I use those examples because they are clear and understandable things that we can all relate to.
Not easy, is it?