Local tax news roundup

New wheelage tax: Isanti County commissioners approved a $10 wheelage tax this month. According to the Isanti County News, county finance director Chad Struss said, "the projected $339,000 revenue is equivalent to a 2 percent property tax levy increase." In a memo to the county board, Struss explained: "From a budget standpoint, the additional revenue would certainly be helpful. The 2015 budget will be difficult to balance without an increase in the property tax levy or a reduction of service levels. Payroll and insurance costs alone may require a 4-5 percent increase in the property tax levy."

700 percent property tax hikes: Valley News Live reports on skyrocketing property taxes for farmers in Wilkin County, largely the result of last year’s bond referendum to build a new $19 million school building in the city of Rothsay. According to the report, "Wilkin County Auditor Wayne Bezenek says an average increase has been around 80 to 90 percent, but they have seen up to 700 percent. He's been hearing from those upset about the increase and those who own land in the area, but couldn't vote." The bond payment for this year alone was $1.2 million. To make matters worse, owners who wish to sell their land will likely find few buyers interested in picking up the tab for year-over-year exponential tax hikes.

Hidden tax hikes from the 2013 session: The Brainerd school board voted last week to raise taxes for 2015 without voter approval. The tax hike was enabled by the state’s Local Option Revenue (LOR) program, signed into law last year by Governor Dayton, which allows school districts greater authority to increase operating levies without a referendum. The Brainerd Dispatch reports: "The state changed the operating referendums in 2013 where districts in the seven county metro area were able to levy up to $424 per pupil units and schools with 2,000 or more students were able to access about half, or an additional $212, per pupil unit. Now with the new changes in the LOR, all school districts may take advantage of the full amount of up to $424 per pupil unit." The vote will increase the local operating levy in Brainerd by $212 to $724 per pupil, or $1.4 million total. Brainerd is hardly alone in taking advantage of the new law, with Worthington and others also passing tax hikes this month. And as districts continue working on 2015 budgets, you can expect to see more and more consider raising taxes without voter approval. And for that, you can thank state policymakers.

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