Public hearings on the proposed budget convene on Monday, but the board won't vote on it until December.
The proposed Ramsey County budget for 2012-13 includes property tax increases over the next two years and a workforce reduction of 134 jobs, primarily through attrition but also including layoffs of as many as 30 employees.
County Manager Julie Kleinschmidt presented the proposal to the Ramsey County Board on Tuesday morning. Her recommendations include the property tax levy increase that is identical to increases in 2010 and 2011. As soon as she mentioned the increase proposal, County Board Member Jim McDonough interrupted to emphasize that the increases for now are simply proposals.
"We're a long way from saying where the property tax levy will be," McDonough said.
Kleinschmidt responded, "Yes, it's our best recommendation."
County Board members will begin public budget hearings Monday but won't vote on the full budget until Dec. 13. The maximum levy will be set Sept. 13, and board members raised concerns about the proposed increases especially because property taxpayers already will be feeling pain from state cuts. Board members also vowed to try to lower the levy increase for the county's portion of the property tax bill.
The budget doesn't include a proposed half-cent sales tax increase for a Minnesota Vikings stadium in Arden Hills, which would be handled through a separate process if approved by the Legislature.
Board Member Jan Parker said most county residents already feel the pain of lost jobs, decreased wages and increased costs for necessities. "Any time we increase the property taxes, we're making things worse," she said.
McDonough noted that 25 percent of children in the county already live in poverty. He said he wants to push for a bigger discussion of how to help struggling families break the cycle and to make clear how the state's cuts have hurt.
"I don't think we've talked loud enough about what's happening," McDonough said.
"We have said over and over to the state Legislature: We can't cut our way out of this," said board Chair Victoria Reinhardt.
The county budget used to be divided in three parts with funding coming in roughly equal amounts from state and federal aid, county fees and property taxes, Kleinschmidt said. In 2000, property taxes made up 36 percent of the county budget. Under her proposed budget, property taxes would make up 47 percent of revenue by the end of 2013, Kleinschmidt said.
Reinhardt and others sought to make clear they aren't increasing property taxes to backfill the loss of state and federal money, but to try to maintain an effective level of service.
The budget would spend $575 million in 2012, a decrease of $15 million, or 2.6 percent, from 2011. The 2013 budget would spend $8 million more or 1.4 percent over 2012.
"The financial footprint will be smaller," Kleinschmidt said, adding the changes are "necessary but bearable."
Commissioner Tony Bennett said the proposed budget focuses on providing service at low cost without "gimmicks or accounting shifts."
But there will be fewer services.
Health and Human Services, which makes up the largest chunk of the county budget at 46 percent, would be cut 2.4 percent. The County Board will determine specifics, but Kleinschmidt proposed cuts to adult and children's mental health, refugee assistance, child-custody mediation and parenting evaluations, among other things.
Critical functions will be maintained in public safety.
Rochelle Olson • 651-735-9749 Twitter: @rochelleolson