STEELE COUNTY — During a speedy meeting on Tuesday, the Steele County Board of Commissioners set the limit on how high the 2020 tax levy and budget can go.

The commissioners approved a preliminary tax levy of $25,776,488 for the year 2020, a 4% increase. The preliminary budget for the same year was sat at $53,069,358.

Throughout the budget season, the commissioners have worked hard at pushing the departments various organizations to tighten their budgets. In June, the commissioners penned a letter to the Minnesota Prairie County Alliance — or MNPrairie — to minimize increases in the three-county agency’s budget.

“The continued large budget increases for MNPrairie have put a strain on the county levy as well as all other departmental budgets which are expected to ‘hold the line’ in order that MNPrairie might continue to grow its budget by double digits every year,” the letter read. “Steele County can no longer accept these types of increases.”

In 2015, MNPrairie’s budget consisted of $7,679,399 from county levies of the areas they serve: Steele, Waseca, and Dodge. That first year, Steele County’s levy provided $3,612,424 of that funding. Today, Steele County’s tax levy provides $4,900,751 of the $10,838,960 that MNPrairie receives from the three counties. IN 2018, the organization received a 14.5% — or $622,150 — increase.

In the 2020 preliminary levy, MNPrairie is proposing a 9.5% increase, bringing their budget up to $5,365,369. That is a $464,618 difference from 2019 and would take up 46.9% of the levy change for next year.

Earlier this year, MNPrairie Executive Director Jane Hardwick explained that the cost of human services in Minnesota has increased by about 13.5%. While the costs for the services increase, counties have seen a shift in funding from the state onto the local county level.

“The majority of programs that MNPrairie administers are mandated by state or federal law,” Hardwick told the People’s Press. “There is a very small number of programs that its board and predecessor boards have endorsed for MNPrairie to provide, but those are intended to help reduce costs in other mandated programs.”

Similar to what is being felt across Minnesota, Hardwick said that the MNPrairie budget is constantly trying to find ways to fund the mandated services that are underfunded by either the state, the federal government, or both. Some of these services include but are next excluded to out-of-home placements for children, civil commitments to regional treatment facilities, long-term care assessments, and healthcare eligibility assessments.

Despite the increase, Steele County is projecting a decrease in property taxes, though very minimal, for both homestead and non-homestead residences. The difference will only be seen in by a few dollars for more citizens. The decreases comes by keeping the tax levy increase under the tax capacity increase, which the Steele County Assessors Office is estimating to grow by 4.2%.

While the tax levy and 2020 budget cannot be higher than the preliminary amounts set this week, they can be reduced. The Truth in Taxation public hearing for Steele County is set for Dec. 10 at 6 p.m. in the Steele County Boardroom.

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