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Reasons for travel, increased levy don’t add up

 To the Editor:
I would like to reply to McLeod County Commissioner Paul Wright’s letter from Jan. 17.
First, a wrongful statement was made indicating that a direct quote of “packed house” was used. This is not a true claim. However, I’m willing to let that go and settle on a more neutral “well attended” statement for the Truth in Taxation meeting, if the commissioner is willing to meet me halfway to tone things down and to move ahead.
It is worth pointing out that, had the meeting video camera been functioning properly for this taxation meeting, the question on attendance need not have come up at all. One could see for themselves. For some reason, the video recording for the meeting was not functioning that night. This apparent “hardware failure” prevents other county residents from watching later and to understand the issues discussed. It is also important to ask that the video camera be operating for the entire time that a quorum of commissioners exists and discusses business to ensure transparency.
I would summarize the rest of the Jan. 17 letter as basically promoting the benefits of National Association of Counties and travel, especially out-of-state travel.
Forgive me, but I don’t understand how flying commissioners to Washington, D.C., to meet with Minnesota Department of Transportation  (MnDOT) representatives and our government leaders is an example of “improved efficiency in government.” Aren’t state Rep. Glenn Gruenhagen and state Sen. Scott Newman already meeting with MnDOT to get U.S. Highway 212 widened to four lanes? Have you asked Colin Peterson, our U.S. representative, for a local meeting? Do we really think paying a lobbyist can be more effective than speaking to our elected officials in person or driving in to meet with MnDOT?
This appears to be an ideal time to identify and review all out-of-state travel costs and lobbyist costs that McLeod County taxpayers are paying for along with benefits derived. These costs should be openly communicated and justified.
I suggest that Commissioner Wright is misunderstanding the expectations that taxpayers have been given for levy rates, starting with the governor. The July 30, 2013, Star Tribune website ran a blog by Jen Brooks, “Property taxes could drop by $121M next year.” The blog explained the millions of increased aid dollars to local government units would lead to the “expectation that the money would be passed along to the taxpayer in the form of lower property tax levies.” This $121 million was to be a redistribution from Gov. Dayton’s $2.1 billion tax increase implemented the year before.
Gov. Dayton states in this blog that property taxes are “the most unfair tax” because “People have to pay property taxes whether or not they have a job or their income’s gone up or down, whether or not their business or farm’s making a profit.” I believe most taxpayers would agree with this statement and expect our commissioners to also agree by their votes, not just words. This same blog reports that Senate Minority Leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, “predicted that the extra government aid will simply lead to extra local spending, not lower property taxes.” That comment looks spot-on today.
The 2016 levy increase is especially questionable because of other significant new income streams also coming into McLeod County the past couple of years: Since 2013, McLeod County has not had to pay sales tax on its purchases. In 2014, this was a $167,000 savings and continuing henceforth. (Wouldn’t McLeod residents like that benefit ourselves?) Also in 2014, McLeod County started charging the wheelage tax for the first time. This netted approximately $350,000 in 2014 and has continued since.
Why didn’t these significantly increased revenue streams reduce the levy or at least avoid an increase for 2016? If we need to send any commissioners out for training in 2016, may I respectfully suggest that courses in cost control, project management and lean value analysis be given top priority?
Jim Bobier
Hutchinson