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Preliminary 2024 budgets, tax levies passed in East Central Minnesota

Updated: Sep 27, 2023

Municipalities in East Central Minnesota have been approving preliminary budgets and tax levies. Here's a look at early budget and levy decisions made around the region.


Pine County


On Sept. 19, the Pine County Board of Commissioners adopted its 2024 budget and levy.


Board Chair Steve Hallan noted that there are still significant factors for the budget not finalized.


“I’m always subscribed to the theory that we do our best work early because, historically, what we set in September is what we end up with in December,” Hallan told the board. “I would say this year would be an exception to my rule. We have a couple of big unknowns.”


The county is currently in labor negotiations for employee wages. According to Administrator David Minke, as of Tuesday morning, the unions did not settle for a 5% increase. The county is also budgeting for a 10% increase in health insurance.


In order to bring costs down, the sheriff’s office eliminated the purchase of an armored van and a lieutenant position.


The county also shifted $65,000 from the timber sale revenue to make up for the lost revenue from eliminating the school resource officer positions.


Commissioner Matt Ludwig motioned to set a 4% increase to the preliminary tax levy. It was seconded by Commissioner Josh Mohr.


That would set the preliminary property tax levy at $22,123,145.

It was approved unanimously.


Pine City


The Pine City Council held a spirited discussion surrounding its 2024 preliminary budget and levy during a meeting on Sept. 21.


The council was looking at an increase of 2.576% from the 2023 levy.


Council member Kyle Palmer felt the increase unfairly targeted property owners with higher home values.


“My concern is if we are trying to get people to put money into the community and build nice homes, that’s a pretty significant deterrent,” Palmer said.


According to the breakdown by property values, a home valued at nearly $400,000 would see a tax increase of $708, which is a major jump from the $87 increase a home valued at $267,000 would have.


Palmer made a further claim that this increase would drive high-value homes out of the city and into the surrounding townships.


“That’s the exact opposite of my point,” Mayor Carl Pederson said in response. “To me, it brings home the fact that it’s [Pine City] a community that takes care of its yard, and because of that, we can reap the results of home values that are good, which attract people.”


The preliminary levy is set for $2,243,074. It was approved in a vote of 3-1. Councilmember Palmer voted “no” and Councilmember Gina Pettie was absent from the meeting.


Hinckley


The Hinckley City Council approved its 2024 preliminary budget during its regular meeting on September 12.


During a budget workshop in August, the council originally identified a tax rate of 49.36%; however, during further discussions, the Hinckley Council decided to set the preliminary tax rate at 52.36% to give the city more of a cushion before finalizing the levy in December.


According to City Administrator Leaha Jackson, the 2024 levy is a 9.78% increase over the 2023 tax levy.


Like many neighboring municipalities, the City of Hinckley is expecting an increase in expenses related to employee salaries and health insurance costs.


The preliminary levy is set for $1,227,986.


Mora


The Mora City Council passed its preliminary 2024 budget in a split 3-2 vote during its meeting on Sept. 19.


The preliminary tax levy represents a 22.1%, or $332,744, increase over 2023’s budget levy.


The budget passed by the council included multiple changes from a special meeting on Sept. 5, including decreasing a proposed City Council wage increase by half and reinstating budget cuts for street department maintenance.


The levy increase was a point of contention during the council’s discussions.


“Over the last ten years, the council has fought to keep taxes as low as possible,” said council member Kyle Shepard. “But what they’ve done is they’ve drained the CIPs, they’ve drained the projects.”


“But we’d rather keep people here,” council member Jody Anderson responded.


“Yes, we want to keep people here, but we also have to make a place that’s desirable for people to come here,” Shepard said.


Council member Sadie Broekemeier mentioned inflation as one of her primary concerns for raising the levy.


“When you look at the catchup rate for inflation, it’s from nine months to two years,” Broekmeier said. “So when I look at raising taxes and doing these projects, I don’t want to do that for two years.”


Broekemeier and Anderson were the two votes for “no.”


Braham


The Braham City Council adopted a preliminary 2024 budget and tax levy during a special meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 19.


The initial tax levy proposed at an earlier meeting marked a 29% increase from the year prior, but was brought down to 8.52%.


According to interim city administrator Linda Woulfe, city staff eliminated a currently vacant police officer position, removed a streets job, and reduced the hours of the deputy clerk to reduce the levy increase.


“I did some other small line tweakings,” Woulfe said. “A thousand here, a thousand there.”


Woulfe also said the city will work through December on lowering the levy, and “applauded” the council for making tough decisions during the budget process.


Braham mayor Nate George expressed his gratitude for city staff’s efforts in lowering the initially proposed levy down to 8.52%.


“That’s a significant drop from the proposed numbers a month ago,” he said. “That’s pretty awesome work.”


The total preliminary levy is set at $1,529,374.


Kanabec County


The Kanabec County Board of Commissioners unanimously approved the 2024 preliminary budget and tax levy on Sept. 19.


The board held four budget work sessions in August and September leading up to setting the preliminary numbers. The total levy is set at $14,277,264.


While the preliminary figure caps the possible levy, the board can still work to lower the number until its December deadline.


“I think there’s still some areas we could work on between that period,” said commissioner Tom Roeschlein.


The proposed 2024 budget is $35,161,390.


Pine City Council and Staff discuss the 2024 budget and levy. Taken by Joe Keyport.

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