The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Local News

December 17, 2013

Zeroing in on final budgets

Two local governments freeze property taxes for 2014

MANKATO — For the second time in about 14 hours, a Mankato-area local government approved a zero percent levy increase for 2014.

Monday night, it was the North Mankato City Council holding its levy at current levels. Tuesday morning, it was the Blue Earth County Board.

"A good job on behalf of the entire Blue Earth County staff," said Commissioner Kip Bruender.

The zero increase was made possible partly because of increased aid from the state of Minnesota to cities and counties, and partly because of a legislative decision to exempt local governments from the state sales tax, a savings of hundreds of thousands of dollars for Blue Earth County.

Still, the anticipated savings for property taxes haven't shown up in all jurisdictions.

"I know we're in the minority," Commissioner Drew Campbell said of the number of counties keeping their property tax collections flat.

Commissioner Mark Piepho noted that a few counties actually reduced their levies. But Commissioner Vance Stuehrenberg reminded him that the Legislature also authorized counties to raise new revenue for road construction via a local sales tax or a per-vehicle wheelage tax.

"Some of those that decreased (property taxes) put on the wheelage tax and also the sales tax," Stuehrenberg said. "We did not do that."

At Monday night's North Mankato City Council meeting, Mayor Mark Dehen asked that the vote be taken on a "zero percent levy" for 2014. Councilman Kim Spears corrected Dehen: it was a zero percent increase from the current levy rather than a zero percent levy (which would mean no property taxes would be collected next year.)

Councilman Bob Freyberg joked that Spears — the council's most fiscally conservative member — appeared tempted to let Dehen's slip of the tongue be enacted.

"You were getting really excited," Freyberg said.

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