Minnesota’s two most populous counties approved 2014 budgets Tuesday, with the Hennepin County Board nudging up property tax collections to boost worker pay and the Ramsey County Board spending more without increasing tax collections.
The centerpiece of Hennepin County’s budget is pay raises that amount to 7.5 percent in each of the next two years for about a third of the county’s 7,300 employees. Board Chairman Mike Opat noted that employee pay has been frozen for half of the past 10 years and it’s “time to recognize the fact that we’re coming out of the Great Recession.”
All employees will see cost-of-living increases of 2.5 percent at the beginning of each of the next two years. County employees who aren’t at the top of the pay scale in their category will get an extra 5 percent increase annually provided performance is good, bringing their annual bump to 7.5 percent.
“We never can make everyone happy, but we make a lot more people happy than unhappy with this budget,” Opat said before the vote.
More good news in Hennepin County: Accelerated payments on the Target Field debt continued this year with an extra $11 million earlier this month, meaning the ballpark could be paid off as early as 2026. The park is funded through sales-tax collections.
Commissioner Jeff Johnson, the only no vote, said that pay increases were too high. “This year our constituents are expecting tax cuts,” he said.
Commissioner Peter McLaughlin countered that overall spending was down. The board approved a 2014 budget of $1.78 billion, a 0.57 percent decrease from 2013. The property tax collection will increase 0.98 percent. Property tax collections in 2014 will be $681 million, or $6.6 million more than in 2013.
“This notion that cutting taxes is the roadway to prosperity, I don’t think that’s what you’re seeing around the country,” McLaughlin said.
Ramsey County commissioners approved a biennial budget in which spending will go up in both 2014 and 2015 but be paid for with increased state and federal aid and department revenues rather than increased property tax collections.
The 2014 budget will spend $603.5 million, about $14.8 million more than Ramsey County spent this year. The 2015 budget amounts to $611.2 million.
Next year’s tax collections, which remain roughly steady from this year at $270.5 million, will fund about 45 percent of the budget. The balance is mostly paid for either through intergovernmental aid or service-fee charges and fines.
New spending next year includes funding for a new computer-assisted dispatch system to improve response times, another sheriff’s deputy to bolster crime scene processing and an additional forensic technician, expanded child protection services and an assistant to help veterans obtain service benefits. Ramsey County also will spend $3.8 million more next year to improve roads.
On Tuesday night, the St. Paul school board was expected to approve a 1 percent increase in the district’s levy, from $133.7 million to $135 million. The state Department of Education authorized up to a 2 percent increase.
Next year, the district will levy to cover the costs of maintenance projects, such as roof replacements, rather than issue bonds for the work, a move that district officials say should save money in the long run.
Also on Tuesday, the Washington County Board approved a modest property tax increase, the first since 2009. Property tax collections of $86.7 million represent an increase of 0.66 percent, the first in four years.
Another increase will come in spending for the voter-approved Land and Water Legacy program, which will levy more than $1 million in 2014 to pay for bond purchases that will fund more land acquisitions. Together, the net levy and the land and water increase represent a total tax increase of 1.4 percent.
Staff writers Anthony Lonetree and Kevin Giles contributed to this report.