Hennepin County to reduce tax levy for a third year

  • Article by: KEVIN DUCHSCHERE
  • Star Tribune
  • December 13, 2011 - 7:28 PM

The Hennepin County Board on Tuesday slightly cut next year's tax levy on a slightly larger 2012 budget, marking the third consecutive year that the county has reduced its tax revenue.

The board's action came after word that Moody's Investors Service, which had threatened last summer to downgrade the county's top-rated bonds, decided last week to maintain Hennepin's AAA rating. Moody's review was prompted by concerns at the time about the debt-ceiling crisis in Washington.

A flat budget, a flat levy

Commissioners approved a $1.65 billion budget for 2012, a bit higher than this year's spending plan of $1.56 billion. Most of the increased spending is driven by the county's new health program and will be covered by state and federal funds, County Administrator Richard Johnson said. The budget vote was 5-1; the lone dissenter was Commissioner Randy Johnson (Commissioner Jeff Johnson was ill and unable to attend).

The County Board approved a tax levy of $668.4 million, about $1 million less than this year's levy -- a cut of 0.15 percent. That's below the ceiling of 1 percent that commissioners had put on increasing the levy back in September.

Departmental effects

A number of county departments will see reductions in 2012, Richard Johnson said. For instance, library system spending will be cut by 5 percent. The Eden Prairie service center, one of seven in the county, will close in early 2012.

Countywide, about 155 positions are slated to disappear through retirements and attrition, he said, and wages for all county employees will be frozen for a third consecutive year. Only the county attorney's and sheriff's offices will grow next year, and then only by 1 percent, Johnson said.

New dispatch center

The county's 2012 capital budget will be $118.8 million, about $61 million less than this year. One project will be a $33.7 million dispatch center for the Sheriff's Office to replace the outmoded facility in Golden Valley. Ground will be broken next year for the new center in Plymouth.

"I think it's a responsible budget," said Commissioner Mark Stenglein, who chairs the budget committee. "We've done the right thing, we've come in underneath last year's amount, so we're looking out for the taxpayer. Could we do more? We probably could do more. We're going to keep doing more next year."

Kevin Duchschere • 612-673-4455

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