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County Board drops proposed levy increase

The McLeod County Board of Commissioners, on a split vote, turned down a proposed 2 percent levy increase for 2015, and instead voted to not increase the levy at all — also on a split vote.
After several years of not increasing its levy — in deference to the economic recession that hit McLeod County harder than many areas because of employment cuts at Hutchinson Technology — the County Board had proposed a 2 percent levy increase in 2015.
The reason behind the proposed increase was to build funds to implement the results of a salary and benefits compensation study it ordered earlier this year, at the request of its human resources and administration departments. Those departments feel that McLeod County is losing far too many employees to higher-paying counties in the metro area or to private enterprise, creating additional costs in recruiting and training replacements.
Commissioner Paul Wright, before the County Board voted to order the study last spring, warned his fellow Board members that implementing the study’s results would come with a cost. He told them there was no purpose in commissioning the study if the Board had no intention in following through.
The study hasn’t been completed yet, so the County Board does not yet know what the financial impact may be. But Wright argued that it was better to implement a small levy increase now than to make a large jump in future years.
We agree with that, although we are loathe to increase taxes if not absolutely necessary.
On the other hand, commissioners Ron Shimanski and Jon Christensen pointed out that any tax increase will hit ag land particularly hard. Increased values on farmland mean  those acres will bear a greater share of the tax burden. At the same time, a poor growing season in 2014 and tanking commodity prices will greatly impact incomes for owners of ag land.
Three of the five commissioners wanted to reduce hardship on their constituents by not increasing taxes. The other two felt that that it is the Board’s responsibility to ensure there is enough revenue to take care of the county’s operating needs.
It’s a tough call, and one that needs to be made every year. And a split vote does not indicate rancor among board members, nor that there was a right or a wrong answer.
It simply points to the delicate balance of trying to protecting taxpayers’ pocketbooks while still meeting the needs of the county. Hopefully, a better 2015 economy will lead to an easier decision for the 2016 levy.