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Editorial: Levy freeze would have been a mistake

Goodhue County commissioners nearly blundered in the opening 2017 meeting. Fortunately, they defeated an unexpected and unannounced bid to freeze property taxes for 2018.

Had the motion passed 3-2 instead of failing 3-2, the county would have faced dismantling a multi-year (and overdue) infrastructure plan and cut at least $1 million in staffing. In addition, the county would have left no room to address emergencies. The existing budget already has what amounts to an empty contingency fund.

Jason Majerus moved to set the preliminary levy ceiling at 0 percent. With a second from Barney Nesseth, Majerus argued that $30,968,619 in taxes being collected this year should be equally enough for next year.

There are several problems with the motion.

First, freezing the county property tax levy was not on the agenda. Transparency is vital to good government, especially when it comes to taxation through representation.

Minnesota requires local governments to certify their proposed maximum levies in September. Governments may then lower those levies, but are required to hold Truth-in-Taxation hearings at the end of the year before voting. There's reason this system is in place: It works.

Second, we didn't hear widespread clamoring over the overall 6.9 percent tax increase during the Goodhue County Truth-in-Taxation hearing Dec. 8. Only one household complained and that was about a hike in home value and therefore an increase in taxes. Keep in mind, these people made substantial improvements on a formerly foreclosed property.

Third, 2017 brings many unknowns in government. At the federal level, a new Republican-led Congress already is in session and a new administration begins Jan. 20. Republicans also control both the House and Senate at the Minnesota Capitol, thanks to the 2016 election.

The long list of potential government actions starts with health care reform, whether that means killing the Affordable Care Act, revamping universal insurance or waiting until 2018. Goodhue County Health & Human Services, for one, could be hit hard.

Fourth, Chairman Ron Allen suggested a friendly amendment to make a flat levy a goal rather than boxing the county in nine months early. Majerus declined. He wouldn't consider compromise, and that is a shortcoming.

Finally, passing the motion would have eliminated meaningful discussion as well as shortchanged Paul Drotos and Nesseth in their first year on the board.

County residents deserve thoughtful deliberation. As Commissioner Brad Anderson said in voting no, "We need factual data."

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