County officials point to service improvements, expected inflation and wage settlements as the drivers of higher spending.
Citing an uptick in state and federal aid, Ramsey County officials on Tuesday proposed a 2014-15 budget that includes slightly more spending but no property tax levy increases over the two-year period.
County Manager Julie Kleinschmidt told the board that $20.1 million in additional spending will be largely covered by additional state and federal funding, along with department fees.
That will make for “a level levy,” she said. If the board approves the proposed levy, it will be the first time in more than 20 years that Ramsey County has enacted back-to-back flat levy increases.
The plan is a reversal of sorts from the 2012-13 budget, which saw total spending decline by 1.6 percent but employed tax levy increases of 1.7 percent in 2012 and 2.7 percent this year.
The proposed budget won kudos Tuesday from commissioners who said that additional state and federal aid will make all the difference between two more years of higher levies and no increases.
However, Commissioner Victoria Reinhardt said more needs to be done at the State Capitol to restore local aid. So far, she said, the state has done so only to 2006 levels.
“Just because there’s a zero doesn’t mean we don’t have a lot of work … but we’re headed in the right direction,” she said.
Kleinschmidt attributed higher spending in the next two years partly to what she called “austerity fatigue” — the demand for service improvements after years of flat or reduced funding. Areas getting funding under the proposed budget include a new computer-aided dispatch system, an additional sheriff’s officer to process crime scenes, expansion of child protection services and a worker to help veterans secure their benefits. Under the budget proposal, 15 jobs would be lost by the end of 2015. But Kleinschmidt said she believes most of them can be reduced through attrition.
The proposal now goes to the County Board, which will hold its first public hearing on the budget on Aug. 20. The board will vote Sept. 10 to set a maximum tax levy and is scheduled to approve the budget on Dec. 17.