The Lake County Board of Commissioners have approved the preliminary levy and set a Truth in Taxation meeting.
The board Tuesday, Sept. 24, approved a net property tax levy of $11.1 million, an approximately 6% increase from 2019. The increase is the maximum the county can certify at the Truth in Taxation meeting at 6 p.m. Dec. 3 at the Lake County Highway Building, 1513 County Road 2. However, the county can choose to reduce the levy amount.
Commissioners agreed to the increase in light of the recent U.S. Forest Service's reappraisal of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.
In June, the Forest Service told the county it would receive a 53% reduction in Thye-Blatnik Act-authorized payments in-lieu-of-taxes due to a reappraisal of the BWCAW, which will mean an annual loss of $1.3 million in PILT revenue. The county would have to raise the levy by 12.6% to make up the lost revenue.
Commissioners met with the Forest Service appraisers and made arguments to supplement the official complaint the county made regarding the appraisal two weeks ago.
Commissioner Rick Goutermont said he approved the 6% increase as the county continued to meet with the Forest Service.
"Until our discussion with the U.S. Forest Services is showing movement or some change or any direction, I think we need to have that in our pocket," he said.
Commissioner Jeremy Hurd agreed.
"I would agree there’s some merit to that," Hurd said "I’m certainly not interested in putting an 11-12% levy increase on us. Even 6 (percent) is high. And we’ve already taken steps to tighten the belt ... I do think we’re still kicking the problem down the road a little bit, but we can always go down."
Commissioner Rick Hogenson agreed with the move, with the stipulation that it is his "intention that the percentage is lowered from there."
On the bright side, the commissioners received some welcome news from the county auditor that the county's net tax capacity has increased by 4.4%. This will spread the 6% increase among more taxpayers.
"That will soften the blow considerably, though not for every individual taxpayer," Goutermont said. "It's nothing to sneeze at."
The county also adopted the preliminary net property tax levies for the county's unorganized territories —$32,000 for UT1 and $341,000 for UT2 — both of which are unchanged from 2019.