Otter Tail County property owners as a group will pay 4.74% more in property taxes in 2022, according to preliminary numbers released at the Otter Tail County Commission meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 28.
That doesn't mean that each property owner will pay that rate, said Wayne Stein, county auditor-treasurer. Some will see their tax rate fall, and some will see their property tax rise more, if, for example, they added a new building on their land.
During the meeting, commissioners said they understand that some counties have a 0% increase in their property tax levy, but that Otter Tail County chose to invest in improvements such as better internet access for rural parts of the county, and better pay for law enforcement officers.
"We have people across the county with acceptable and good broadband," said Board Chairman Lee Rogness. "You’ll find a mother and three children in a car across from a library doing their homework because that is the best internet connection they can find."
Commissioner Wayne Johnson said law enforcement officers in Otter Tail County were underpaid compared to their counterparts in the rest of Minnesota, and that the county will pay an additional $600,000 in salary increases.
"We're going to take those federal dollars and were going to invest in things in our county, and help our county citizens and not simply supplant our levy with those federal dollars," said Johnson, who also chairs the commission's budget committee.
This proposed levy won't be set until December, and the public will have a chance to comment on it at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 14. It could decrease, but it likely will not increase, Stein said, as the state only allows it to increase under certain strict conditions once the preliminary rate is set. Counties have to set their preliminary levies by Sept. 30.
The proposed increase is only for the county's share of property tax dollars. It does not include levies for the Viking Library system, properties that are within Lake Improvement Districts, the Community Development Association or the Housing and Redevelopment Authority.
Property taxes generated $42.8 million for Otter Tail County this year, and the new levy will raise $44.9 million in 2022, Stein said. Property taxes pay for not quite a third of the county's $150 million annual budget. Otter Tail County also gets funding from state and federal sources, fees, permits and charges for services.
In other commission news:
Commissioners heard that the Otter Tail County DWI Court team received an Excellence in Corrections Award from the Minnesota Association of County Probation Officers. During the pandemic, with its mental health risks, the team worked hard to keep DWI Court participants engaged. They gave a weekly voluntary wellness challenge to all DWI Court participants, which included activities like outdoor scavenger hunts and building birdhouses. Participants also continued to receive in-person visits, drug and alcohol testing and remote court hearings, and client meetings through virtual platforms increased. Probation Director Michael Schommer said they learned of only three drug or alcohol relapses among DWI court participants during the pandemic.
Resurfacing County Road 1 and County Road 88 cost more than the county bargained for. In 2019, it awarded a $1.66 million bid for the work. But final costs have topped $2 million, about $370,000 more. The most expensive change was adding a right-hand turn lane to County Road 88 (Fir Avenue) for North Oak Street, the street leading away from the Otter Tail County Government Services Center in Fergus Falls, said County Engineer Chuck Grotte. Other changes included work to correct the sloping on road curves and replace sidewalks. This project was funded by county borrowing and the wheelax tax.