The Ramsey County Board on Tuesday approved a $738 million spending plan for 2019 that again will raise the property tax levy by 4.3 percent for the second year of its biennial budget.
Much of the increased levy will be used to keep up with the rising cost of salaries, benefits and programs, said Lee Mehrkens, the county’s chief financial officer.
“The bulk is really for these general inflationary costs,” Mehrkens said. “But we’re also seeing that some of our direct services, like our foster care placement costs, continue to rise.”
The value of homes throughout Ramsey County increased by about 7 percent in 2018. If the value of a $250,000 home — the median value in Roseville — increased by 7 percent, homeowners would pay about $70 more next year in county taxes. The owner of a $186,000 home, the median value in St. Paul, would pay about $45 more.
Taxes by other jurisdictions, such as the city and school district, have to be taken into account before figuring one’s tax payments.
Ramsey’s levy increase will hit hardest the St. Paul neighborhoods of Thomas-Dale, Dayton’s Bluff and Payne-Phalen, as those areas saw the most growth in property values during the last year.
The county will put nearly $2 million more aside next year for its regional rail and bus system, representing an 8 percent increase. The funds will help cover the cost of studies and planning for proposed express bus routes from downtown St. Paul to White Bear Lake and to Woodbury, as well as a contentious proposal to build a $2 billion streetcar line along W. 7th Street from downtown St. Paul to Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.
Early this year the county dramatically increased the number of correctional officers working at the county jail and workhouse, and some of those additional costs will spill over into next year’s budget.
The county also will earmark money to expand its early voting program and replace the cooling and electrical systems at its ice arenas.
Commissioner Janice Rettman cast the lone vote against the budget, saying the levy increase was too high. “It’s tough times out there,” she said.
Board Chairman Jim McDonough, however, said more money is needed to keep up with the cost of providing essential health services.
“The pain is real,” McDonough said. “But even the people who spoke out at our public hearings acknowledged the difficulty we have being the safety net provider of our community.”