FERGUS FALLS -- Otter Tail County commissioners, on Oct. 1, learned more about a state shortfall for roadway funding from county Engineer Chuck Grotte.

“There’s a $1 billion annual road funding shortfall from the state for all 87 counties in Minnesota,” Grotte said. “Otter Tail County is one of the larger counties in the state, and annual state roadway funding for Otter Tail falls short, by close to $7 million.”

State law allowed for Otter Tail County and other counties in Minnesota to enact fees of $10 per license tab for calendar years 2016 and 2017 and to raise the fee to $20 in 2018.

The $20 per vehicle wheelage tax in Otter Tail County adds close to $1.2 million for roadway maintenance. In addition, proceeds to Otter Tail County from a one-half cent sales tax yields close to $3.8 million annually for roadway maintenance.

Additional money in order to meet the budget comes from county taxpayers through the annual levy, in addition to money derived from the federal government.

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The federal government and state governments use gasoline taxes to fund road construction and repair. The federal tax is 18.4 cents per gallon but hasn’t been raised since 1993.

The Minnesota gasoline tax has been raised in recent years and now stands at 28.6 cents per gallon.

County helping people become working parents

County Human Services Director Deb Sjostrom, at the Oct. 1 county board meeting, outlined to county commissioners Otter Tail County’s coordination with a state program to help more parents becomes members of the workforce.

“The Minnesota Family Investment Program (MFIP) helps families with children meet their basic needs while helping parents move to financial stability through work,” Sjostrom said.

Through MFIP, parents are expected to work or be in an educational program and are supported with both cash and food assistance. Most families have a lifetime limit of 60 months on MFIP.

“When families first apply for cash assistance, they usually start in a four-month program called Diversionary Work Program that helps parents go to work right away,” Sjostrom said.

People work with a job counselor to create an employment plan.

“This is done through a cooperative agreement with Rural MnCEP,” Sjostrom said.

Otter Tail County submits a biennial service agreement to the Minnesota Department of Humans Services for approval of the plan that includes the work of Rural MnCEP. The service agreement plan for 2020-21 is due on Oct. 15.

Assistance may not end when a person finds employment.

“If a person works, but earns low wages, that person may still qualify for child care assistance, food benefits and health care coverage,” Sjostrom said.

Commissioners work to pare down preliminary levy

Otter Tail County commissioners, following a Sept. 24 approval of a 5.33% tax hike for 2020 as a starting point, agreed to make efforts to reduce this percentage prior to a public meeting scheduled for early December.

The official county levy and budget public hearing will begin at 6 p.m. Dec. 3 at the county government services center in northwest Fergus Falls, just west of the former Regional Treatment Center campus.

County commissioners are facing a levy on county taxpayers of $42.3 million as part of the proposed net property tax for the payable year of 2020. The percentage, now at 5.33 percent, can go lower but not higher.

“The final decision must be made after the public hearing on Dec. 3,” notes county Auditor-Treasurer Wayne Stein.

Auditor-Treasurer Wayne Stein
Auditor-Treasurer Wayne Stein

Included in the budget, Stein noted, are county taxpayer funds for the land service division that includes the county assessor’s office, county recorder’s office and geographic information systems. The finance division includes the office of the auditor-treasurer, elections and licensing,

County taxpayers also fund community services, including public health, assistance to military veterans, etc.

Public works includes highways, land and resource management and solid waste.

Law enforcement includes the sheriff office and internal services includes administration, human services, facilities operations and emergency management. The county attorney’s office is its own division.

Property tax funds are also used to fund many of the services provided by the auditor-treasurer’s office, licensing, elections, county attorney, assessor, recorder and land services.