Commissioners approve 8.42 percent preliminary levy increase

Pipestone County Commissioners during their Sept. 27 meeting approved a preliminary 2023 property tax levy of $8,622,410, which is an increase of $669,754, or 8.42 percent.

The preliminary levy would pay for about 41.69 percent of the preliminary 2023 budget of $20,681,562, which is a decrease of $729,054, or about 3.41 percent from 2022. State and federal revenue sources are projected to provide about $7,893,854, which is projected to pay for about 38.17 percent of budgeted expenditures. The rest of the revenue is expected to come from special assessments, other taxes, fees for services, investment earnings, insurance dividends, building rent, fines, refunds and reimbursements, sales of supplies and equipment, and other sources.

As usual, spending on road and bridge construction and maintenance accounts for the largest share of county expenses (about 43.67 percent) at $9,030,753, which is $1,410,261, or about 13.5 percent less than in 2022. About 74.2 percent of road and bridge expenses, or $6,702,655, will be paid for with state and federal aid.

Law enforcement accounts for the next largest expense (about 14.26 percent of the total budget) at $2,949,313. That’s an increase of $138,689, or about 4.93 percent, over 2022. About 37.89 percent of that will be paid for through contracts with cities in the county for law enforcement services, which total $1,117,421.

The next largest expense is for family services, which accounts for 7.72 percent of the total budget at $1,596,161. That’s an increase of $94,905, or about 6.32 percent, over 2022.

Pipestone County Administrator Steve Ewing said factors that impacted the proposed budget included raises for employees, which include, a 2.5 percent salary increases and performance step increases of between 2.5 and 2.8 percent; about a 13 percent increase in the county’s contribution to employee insurance costs; about a 10 percent increase in casualty and liability insurance costs; the budgeted addition of two full-time ambulance personnel and a part-time deputy county attorney; a full wage and market study, which is estimated to cost between $30,000 and $40,000; $54,000 to join the Advocate Coordinate Educate (ACE) program, which helps connect seniors with volunteer opportunities; and inflation.

“We’ve seen costs for literally everything that we do or buy — all supplies, equipment, our capital expenditures, vehicles, graders, trucks, trailers, computers, printers, including utilities, electricity, heating, fuel — all are increasing, so, unfortunately, we’re no different than ourselves sitting here or any other business or any other entity of government,” Ewing said. “Our costs are all increasing because of that, so we’re trying to watch those costs as best we can, but it costs money to do our business.”

While most costs are increasing, Ewing said the cost of workers compensation insurance decreased by 15.5 percent.
Ewing said the factors that contributed most to the levy increase include salary, benefit and staffing changes; the increase for family services; joining the ACE program; increased costs for supplies, materials and equipment; and an improvement project planned at the fairgrounds.

Commissioner Dallas Roskamp pointed out that an 8.42 percent levy increase does not necessarily mean a property owner’s taxes will increase by that amount. Other factors are at play when determining individual property taxes such as property valuations, which have increased. Commissioner Dan Wildermuth said that the increased property valuations have increased the county’s tax capacity.

Wildermuth also said he was proud of the fact that the county has no debt and has been financially prudent.
“Yes, it is an 8 percent increase, but it’s part of growth, so I commend our staff for all the hard work they’ve done, and we’re not spending money frivolously, so I appreciate that,” he said. “I really believe the taxpayers appreciate that as well.”

The commissioners scheduled the annual truth in taxation meeting for Monday, Dec. 12 at 7 p.m. in the commissioner room at the courthouse. That meeting provides an opportunity for county residents to learn, comment and ask questions about the proposed 2023 budget and levy before the county commissioners approve the final amounts, which must be done in December. The commissioners plan to adopt the final amounts at their regular meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 27.

The final levy amount can be less than, but not greater than the preliminary amount. Ewing said he and the commissioners would look for parts of the budget that could potentially be reduced between now and when the final levy is approved.