The Free Press, Mankato, MN

December 8, 2012

North Mankato property taxes to rise again

By Mark Fischenich
Free Press Staff Writer

NORTH MANKATO — This year, North Mankato property owners saw the city levy jump 7 percent, the Mankato Area Public Schools levy rise 2.5 percent and the Nicollet County levy edge up 1 percent.

Two of the three will look better in 2013 when property taxes are due.

The city levy next year is rising 4.42 percent and the school district levy is actually dropping 2.18 percent. For Nicollet County, the levy hike looks to be 3 percent for the coming year.

In North Mankato, personnel costs are driving much of the increase. Employees will receive a 2 percent pay hike Jan. 1 Last year, pay rose 1 percent and didn’t take effect until July 1 — so the raise was half the size for half the time.

The city also is seeing a $140,000 bump in the police and fire budget, largely due to pay and benefit increases. In addition, a new officer was hired at mid-year, so the full impact of his wages and benefits will be in place in 2013 rather than for just half the year as was the case this year.

Health-care premiums are also projected to rise.

Overall, the city’s general fund, which covers city operations ranging from police to snowplowing to park care to administration, is increasing by $236,000. The broader city budget — including construction projects and large equipment funded by bond sales, the library, utilities and projects funded by the local sales tax — will rise more than $400,000 to $22.35 million, a 2 percent increase.

The fall in the $17.4 million school levy, which is a drop of about $400,000, comes partly from burning the mortgage for Dakota Meadows Middle School. The 20-year bonds, sold in 1992, have been paid off.

The decrease was projected to be an even steeper decline of 4.3 percent in September, but updated enrollment numbers showed unexpectedly high growth in the number of students in the district.

The Nicollet County Board approved a preliminary levy hike of 4 percent in September but has since worked to trim it even while adding new employees and dealing with a reduction in state aid.

“We’ve cut that down to 3 percent through a series of 11 County Board workshops,” said Bridgette Kennedy, the county auditor and interim county administrator.

The county levy is increasing $472,000, down a bit from the $630,000 increase approved in September when the board set its preliminary levy. It could be reduced a bit more at the Monday budget hearing where the 2013 levy will be approved, but Kennedy said the commissioners appear to be comfortable with the 3 percent increase.

The increase covers inflation, along with the addition of a deputy, a dispatcher and a part-time clerk in the sheriff’s budget and a new children’s mental health social worker in the Social Services Department.

“That’s comprising the biggest portion of the 3 percent increase,” she said.

Even with the increase, the county budget isn’t balanced. County Program Aid, which is state aid to counties, is expected to fall by $332,000 in 2013. So the proposed budget uses about $400,000 in reserve funds to erase the red ink.

A close look at the tax bill also shows the ongoing shift in the tax burden from homeowners to agricultural land, something caused both by changes made at the Capitol more than a year ago and by the rapid increase in farmland value. For many homeowners, the shift will be obvious in the county portion of the tax bill — a drop in the taxes they are paying to the county even as the county’s overall tax levy rises.