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Column: Wabasha County readies for budget cuts

We have all heard the doom and gloom reports on the national financial situation, however, all is not doom and gloom in Wabasha County. The unemployment rate in Wabasha County was 5.9 percent at the end of 2008 and increased to 6.8 percent by the end of 2009.

While it is small consolation to those currently unemployed, the end of 2009 saw Minnesota with a 7.4 percent unemployment rate and a 9.7 percent unemployment rate nationally, leaving Wabasha County much better off than the nation as a whole.

While we all complain about taxes to some degree, it is interesting to note that the statewide county property tax levy change was a plus 3.2 percent in 2010, Wabasha County was 0 percent. Wabasha was one of just 11 of Minnesota's 87 counties to not increase their property tax levy in 2010.

After the governor's unallotment, the state average property tax increase was a plus 1.9 percent and Wabasha County was a negative 0.9 percent.

Overall, Wabasha County ranks 41st from the bottom of the list of 87 Minnesota counties average property tax rate in 2009, meaning 46 counties have a higher average property tax rate than Wabasha County. Of 12 southeastern Minnesota counties, Wabasha County had the fourth lowest average tax rate in 2009, with eight counties having a higher property tax rate.

There are eight of our southern Minnesota neighbors whose citizens pay a higher average property tax rate than we do in Wabasha County.

Wabasha County's outstanding net bonded debt is $20,395,000, which is significantly below the state-imposed debt limit of $73,349,475 based on the 2008 taxable market value of $2,444,982,500.

State statute allows county debt of no more 3 percent of taxable market value. The total Wabasha County debt is attributable to the new Criminal Justice Center, Wabasha County has no other debt. The county has not spent and incurred debt like the state and federal governments, we have consistently lived within our means.

Wabasha County has a long history of conservative fiscal management.

The County Board is reducing expenditures where possible and exploring new revenue sources, with an eye to providing effective services to the citizens of Wabasha County at an affordable cost. It is a fact that we will see further reductions in state government aid to counties, which will force all county boards to make some tough decisions.

In setting the 2011 budget, the County Board will have to take a hard look at individual services. Some services will no longer be able to be funded as they have in the past and some services may need to be eliminated. Which services are reduced and which are eliminated will require tough decisions, no matter what is done someone will be affected by cuts and they will not be pleased.

David Johnson is the Wabasha County administrator.