The Washington County Board on Tuesday approved a 6.69 percent maximum property tax levy, the largest in several years, to cover rising costs that include child protection and other social services required but not fully funded by the state of Minnesota.
Commissioners with Hennepin and Ramsey counties also approved tax levy ceilings for their 2018 budgets, though their proposed increases were closer to what taxpayers have seen before.
And both the Minneapolis and St. Paul school boards have taken steps toward setting the property tax levies for their respective districts.
In Washington County, budget planners cited a convergence of circumstances for the higher-than-normal levy ceiling. The Lake Elmo library is rejoining the county system, new labor agreements are in place, technology upgrades are due and funding is needed for a major crimes unit to fight sex trafficking.
“This has not been an easy lift,” said Commissioner Fran Miron. “I think all of us on the County Board recognize there are unmet needs here.”
The Hennepin County Board approved a 4.95 percent ceiling for its 2018 tax levy, the third year in a row that taxpayers there likely will see an increase around 5 percent.
That amounts to a maximum levy of $796 million; the total county budget will be nearly $2.4 billion, a $280 million increase from last year.
In 2018, Hennepin County expects to lose nearly $60 million in state and federal funding, said County Administrator David Hough. He said that most of the levy increase is due to higher salaries and benefits for county employees, as well as new staffers to ease caseloads “and fulfill our client responsibilities.”
Commissioner Jeff Johnson was the lone dissenting vote, saying that the board had fallen into a rut of 5 percent tax hikes. “My constituents can’t afford it,” he said.
The Ramsey County Board swiftly approved a 4.3 percent tax levy ceiling, despite reservations weeks ago about the impact higher taxes and rising property values will have on household incomes.
Commissioner Jim McDonough called it a “solid proposal that balances the needs for services our residents need and expect while providing the staff with the resources to deliver those services in a high quality manner.”
But he expressed regret that “our only option is the property tax, which is not necessarily fair. it’s a regressive tax.”
The Minneapolis school board approved a ceiling for its 2018 property tax levy between 3.8 percent and roughly 6.3 percent, depending on information the district is awaiting from the state, finance chief Ibrahima Diop said.
The St. Paul Public Schools expect a ceiling of not more than 6.2 percent for its levy increase.
More than half of the St. Paul schools’ hike would go to building improvements and a new North End area school for special-education students. This year, the district’s levy totaled $148 million, accounting for about 20 percent of district revenue. The proposal for 2018 would lift the levy to $157 million, a $9.2 million increase.
Minneapolis and St. Paul schools have battled multimillion-dollar shortfalls in recent years. In Minneapolis, last year’s budget had a $13 million shortfall, and this year’s budget was $21 million after some cuts. In all cases, the respective boards will finalize 2018 budgets and tax levies in December.
Staff writers David Chanen, David Peterson, Beena Raghavendran and Anthony Lonetree contributed to this report.