The Lake County Board of Commissioners reluctantly approved the 2020 property tax levy at the last meeting of the year Tuesday, Dec. 17. The county approved a net property tax levy of $11.1 million, an approximately 6% increase from 2019, with many commissioners expressing regret for the action.
“Some of my constituents comments have been, ‘We’re getting our assessments from the city of Two Harbors for alley, street and sidewalk projects, we’re getting our utility rate increases, levy increases at 7% from the city, the maximum increase from the school district and now 6% from the county and it’s just a tough number,” Commissioner Rick Hogenson said.
“It’s pretty unfortunate that the federal government does not have a response for us as this day came.”
Hogenson referred to the main drive of the 6% increase: the U.S. Forest Service's reappraisal of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.
Every 10 years the U.S. Forest Service appraises the BWCAW and pays the county one quarter of 1% of the value and sets the Thye-Blatnik Act-authorized payments in-lieu-of-taxes for the next decade. In June, the Forest Service presented the county with the appraisal, which included a 63% reduction in value for the Boundary Waters as a whole.
Previously, the county received approximately $2.6 million annually. With the 53% reduction, the county is set to receive a $1.3 million annually. The county would have to raise the levy by 12% to make up the lost revenue.
Lake County, along with St. Louis and Cook counties, has made appeals to the Department of Agriculture and Forest Service regarding the decrease in the appraisal, but has yet to hear back regarding any possible changes. The county anticipated an answer by Nov. 30.
“I certainly don’t like raising taxes on anybody,” Commissioner Jeremy Hurd said. “But to the extent that we are, I also think we’re kicking the can down the road. Because I don’t think we’re going to get a better answer from the Forest Service. I think we’re looking at an additional increase down the road. I’m not happy about it, but I don’t see a different route.”
The 2020 property tax levy and budget were both passed unanimously. The county also adopted the 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.