The Waseca County Board has approved its 2021 budget and property tax levy, but some Janesville business owners questioned their increasing taxes.
The board approved a 1.95% property tax levy increase that was lower than County Administrator Michael Johnson’s proposed 2.5% increase. The board approved the levy on Tuesday, Dec. 8 following a Truth in Taxation hearing, then approved the county budget for 2021 on Tuesday, Dec. 15.
“COVID has provided some tough challenges when considering how to budget for 2021,” board Chair Doug Christopherson said during the Dec. 8 meeting.
County officials realize some residents and businesses have experienced a financial burden this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic and they tried to be considerate of that, he said.
Johnson said creating a budget was challenging in part because “we’re not done” with the pandemic yet and the residual effects of the pandemic are unknown at this point.
While the general fund levy is slightly increasing, the county’s building fund is increasing by more than $500,000 and the public works fund is decreasing by nearly $3 million. The building fund increase is caused by building maintenance costs being redirected to that fund instead of the general fund, as was previously done, Johnson said. The decrease in public works spending is because the county is “trying to be smarter” with money available to the county and state aid, he said.
Janesville business concerns
Several Janesville business owners questioned the large jumps they saw for their properties’ taxes.
Johnson urged them to go through the process to have their concerns about their property valuations addressed. He noted that setting a property value is a “rigorous” process and the state Department of Revenue sets a “narrow window” for county assessors to follow.
“The county never sets property values to meet an agenda, meaning that there’s no backroom conversation happening that we really need a levy at this percentage so we can inflate property values,” Johnson said.
Peder Lehrke, who owns Janesville Mini Storage, said the county’s tax levy increase was reasonable, but his property taxes are increasing by 70%. It’s his biggest expense and he’ll have to consider passing the cost onto his customers. He’s only raised his rates once in the nine years he’s had the business and “I don’t take that decision lightly,” he said.
“We try to be good stewards of running our business. We’re blessed to own a business and try to be a good steward in how we operate ethically,” he said.
Dan Seys, who owns Janesville Bowl, said he has lost $20,000 in income because of Gov. Tim Walz’s latest executive order closing businesses due to the increase in COVID-19 cases. If Walz continues the closure, he expects to lose $40,000 to $50,000, he said. Now he’s facing a tax increase.
“I’m not allowed to be open and mine was a 58.2% increase,” he said.