The minimum wage for Hennepin County employees will go up to $15 an hour, county staffing will expand and $1.7 million will go toward upgraded election equipment, as part of the 2016 budget passed by the County Board.
The Hennepin County Board was one of several in the metro area Tuesday to approve bigger budgets and higher property tax levies for 2016.
“We’re in business for the next year,” Ramsey County Board Chairman Jim McDonough declared after his colleagues approved, with one dissenting vote, a budget that raises taxes for the first time in three years.
Hennepin County’s $1.9 billion budget will be partly paid for with a $726.8 million property tax levy, $31.2 million more than this year’s levy. That’s a 4.5 percent increase, significantly higher than hikes in each of the past six years.
“I’m just not interested in taking my constituents back to a place where we’re growing government every year at a rate that they really can’t afford in the long-term,” Commissioner Jeff Johnson said, before casting the lone nay vote.
But Commissioner Peter McLaughlin said that federal and state aid will go down in 2016, dropping to about $399.5 million from this year’s $428 million. “We’re trying at this point to make sure the services we provide are maintained at a high-level quality,” he said.
Under the 2016 levy, according to Hennepin County officials, the owner of a median-valued suburban home will see a 3.8 percent increase in property taxes — about $41 — while the median home in Minneapolis will see a 4.8 percent increase, or $37.
Ramsey County, which budgets on a biennial basis, will see its budget rise by $22.3 million in 2016 and another $15.8 million in 2017. That makes next year’s budget about $645 million, and $661 million in 2017.
In recommending the increases, County Manager Julie Kleinschmidt pointed to the fact that Ramsey was the fifth-fastest growing county in the state in 2013 and the only metro county with three straight years of job growth.
Next year’s levy will grow by $7.8 million, or 2.8 percent. It will help cover the costs of 12 new child protection workers, more probation officers, two more sheriff’s deputies, more languages spoken at the 911 center and the Shoreview library expansion.
For a median-valued St. Paul single-family home of $151,500, taxes would jump by $30, or 4.5 percent, to $686. Taxes for suburban homeowners won’t rise as much, but their homes are worth more and taxes already are quite a bit higher.
Commissioner Janice Rettman dissented. “You know my concerns about increasing the levy when Ramsey County has not rebounded from the recession like most of the metro area,” she told her colleagues.
Dakota County residents will see a 2016 levy increase of just 0.41 percent, after the County Board voted to maintain one of the lowest tax levies in the state. The median homeowner will pay about $11 more in property taxes, but most of that is due to rising property values. The levy pays for about $130 million of the $400 million-plus budget.
In February, the county is expected be debt-free after paying off a general obligation bond, said spokeswoman Mary Beth Schubert. About $24 million was allocated for debt service, all from non-levy revenue.
Commissioners approved a 3.49 percent increase in the county’s net levy, which includes an appropriation for the Land and Water Legacy program. The increase follows a similar bump last year, after years of cuts and flat budgets.
“This budget makes sure we pay a competitive wage in the seven-county area,” said Gary Kriesel, referring to past difficulties in retaining employees.
“This is a reflective budget on our changing demographics,” said Karla Bigham, referring to population growth.
Next year’s total operating expenses, excluding capital costs and debt, stand at $156.7 million, while money budgeted for capital improvements will increase by 7.9 percent.
The Scott County Board passed a $142 million budget, allocating more money for parks, public works, capital improvements, lobbying and a growing fiber optic network.
The budget includes a 3.5 percent tax levy increase, which will mean about $45 more in property taxes for the average household.
“I think it’s a reasonable and responsible budget,” Commissioner Tom Wolf said.
Future budgets are likely to be even leaner, as the board plans for a “priority-based budgeting” system that will allocate money based on how programs serve functions.
The 2016 budget approved Friday by the Anoka County Board included a 2.49 increase in the tax levy, which officials said would help cover the cost of legislative mandates and human services formerly borne by the state. Board members pointed out that Anoka County had cut tax levy levels or held spending in check since 2010.
“The ship is no longer out of control and the county’s thirst for debt has been quenched,” said Chairwoman Rhonda Sivarajah.
Staff writers David Peterson, Emma Nelson and Kevin Giles contributed to this report.