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Commentary: Stevens County Needs Your help

It's safe to assume most Stevens County residents have never heard of county program aid (CPA) or frequent the topic as one of their family dinner discussions. However, in an age where perceptions of rising property taxes often create frustration, it's important to take a glimpse into this key resource and learn how the legislature's attention to this topic could reduce your property tax bill.

Property taxes have, and most likely will always be, the main source of revenue for county operations. While counties are responsible for roads, bridges, a large majority of county spending is mandated by the state. For example, when the state mandates a county to provide essential services on its behalf -such as child protection or mental health services-but only provides a portion of the funds necessary to carry out the job, the county must divert its property tax revenue, intended for local use, to pay for the state's costs.

Over a decade ago, Minnesota consolidated the funding for several of its mandated programs into single program called "county program aid," or CPA for short. The CPA program was intended to cover the costs of state programs so that counties could reserve more of their property tax dollars for programs specific to the needs of their home communities. In Stevens county, commissioners appropriate CPA entirely for property tax relief, or levy reduction.

Stevens County has seen large decreases in aid, losing 86 percent since 2005. The board has managed this aid loss by conservative spending increases, deferring projects (including road work) to future years, and spending reserve funds, but we can no longer do so. This lack of aid for state mandates has led to the levy increases you saw this year in Stevens County, 7.96 percent. On paper, Stevens looks very rich, because of strong and sustained land sales, we have lost all our tax based equalization aid. However, as many agricultural people know, land value does not translate into liquidity. Land is essential for continued operations. All the money we received in the past is being redistributed in the metro and Northeast portion of Minnesota. However, even those counties see the disparity and know the formula is broken. There is unanimous support across Minnesota's 87 counties for funding and a formula fix.

This legislative session, Rep. Jeff Backer, R-Browns Valley, has been working tirelessly to try and restore rural aid for counties. He has sponsored a bill that was laid over for possible inclusion, but did not make the first round of the tax omnibus bill on the house side. Many rural residents need to ask the question statewide, if 87 counties have supported this property tax relief, why are the legislators not be responsive to the rural constituents who put them in office? If the legislature's goal of property tax relief is sincere, then then funding CPA is part of that equation. The time to act is now, please call you representatives and senators and tell them rural counties need their support and property tax relief. We appreciate your support!

For more information on county program aid, please talk to your commissioners or visit: " target="_blank">www.mncounties.org/document_center/Publications/CPA%20fact%20sheet.pdf

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