Five-person county board oversees $123 million annual budget

By Tom Hintgen

Otter Tail County Correspondent

Many residents of Otter Tail County appreciate that county commissioners run for office without party labels. The five-person county board conducts business on a bipartisan basis, working for the betterment of county residents.

Absent is finger pointing and accusations against Republicans and Democrats, which often takes place at the state and national levels.

It’s a new year for the five-person Otter Tail County Board of Commissioners, which oversees a county budget of $123 million for 2023.

New to the board is Bob Lahman of Parkers Prairie. He joins Dan Bucholz of rural Perham, Wayne Johnson of Pelican Rapids, Kurt Mortenson of rural Underwood and Lee Rogness of Fergus Falls.

Leaving the board after a four-year term was Betty Murphy of Maine Township. Johnson is board chairman for 2023 and vice chair is Mortenson.

  Approximately 39 percent of the budget is funded with county property tax dollars. The additional needed funding comes from the state and federal governments.

Raising revenue to pay for all the services needed in Otter Tail County is one of the biggest challenges facing the five county commissioners. Each commissioner knows that raising taxes is never popular. But at the same time, county residents support raising taxes when needs arise.

An example of county residents supporting new taxes took place in 2016 when county commissioners initiated a half-cent sales tax. Money from this tax is used for road and bridge maintenance. 

Also taking effect in 2016, with support of county residents, was a county charge of $10 added to vehicle license tab renewals, later increased to $20 per vehicle in 2018. This money also goes to road and bridge maintenance.

This past year county residents supported funding of close to $900,000 for foundation repairs at Phelps Mill, a treasure here in Otter Tail County that dates back to 1889.

Commissioner Mortenson expressed appreciation for the departments in county government “who have seen the impacts of inflation and took reasonable restraint to work within the parameters of our budget.”

County board meetings can be accessed via zoom for county residents. Go to the Otter Tail County website and click on Government followed by Departments and Boards, Board of Commissioners and Next Meeting which is Jan. 24 at 8:30 a.m.