Three south metro counties on Tuesday approved budgets for next year, each to be partly financed with increases in their respective property tax levies.
The largest budget was Dakota County’s, a $409 million spending plan that was approved unanimously by the County Board. The Scott County Board also unanimously passed its $172 million budget, and Carver County commissioners approved their $147 million budget.
Dakota County commissioners approved a property tax levy increase of 2.9 percent, which drops to 2.6 percent when taking into account the elimination of the county’s regional rail levy, County Manager Matt Smith said.
In 2016 the county voted to withdraw from the Counties Transit Improvement Board (CTIB), a metrowide funding agency that has since dissolved. The county enacted its own quarter-cent sales tax and $20 excise tax on new cars, replacing the tax levied for CTIB.
Owners of an average-priced Dakota County home worth $263,800 — which increased in value by 8.5 percent this year — will see taxes go up by about $29 on the county’s portion of their tax bill.
Besides the perennial increases in “the cost of doing business,” Smith said that next year’s budget will include additional services in areas such as health and family services, which were added to meet both demand and state requirements. For instance, the county will add three new truancy workers and two probation officers to work with high-risk clients, Smith said.
The Sheriff’s Office also will add a staffer to enforce rules to ensure truckers are securing their loads and aren’t overweight.
“On the tax side, our claim to fame continues to be that we have the lowest county tax rate of any metro county,” Smith said. He added that Dakota County, debt-free since 2017, also has the lowest county taxes per person, on average, in Minnesota.
The Scott County budget passed by commissioners will be partly financed by a 4.15 percent increase in the property tax levy. The $68 million levy itself was approved by four out of the five commissioners, with Dave Beer voting against it.
A homeowner with a house worth $309,000, which is average in Scott County, will see a $27 increase on the county’s portion of their property tax bill after accounting for a 6.5 percent increase in the average home’s value, said County Administrator Gary Shelton.
The levy will help fund $65 million to $70 million in improvements to the county’s government center campus in Shakopee, including a new building and renovations to the existing Justice and Government centers.
The county is planning several significant capital improvement projects, which Shelton identified as one driver of the levy increase. In the spring, work will begin on a $6 million mental health facility in Savage, providing a place for people with mental health crises to stay for 90 days.
“Mental health, and having the right types of facilities available and the right services available, is really critical right now,” Shelton said. “This facility will be a major improvement.”
Scott County also will be purchasing better tax and assessment software. “While it doesn’t sound sexy, it’s a lot of money,” he said.
County funds will pay for two major highway projects, Shelton said: a reconfiguration of a stretch of County Road 21 in Prior Lake and a Hwy. 169 reconstruction project that will add an interchange.
The budget approved by the Carver County Board represents an increase of nearly 8.5 percent over this year’s budget. To help fund it, the board raised the tax levy by 4.9 percent, or $2.6 million.
The higher levy means that taxes on a home worth $336,900, the county average, will go up next year by $44. The county’s average home value increased by 6 percent in 2018.
Much of the budget increase is due to more state mandates for child-protection services, said County Administrator David Hemze. The increased mandates added $581,000 to Carver’s budget. More child protection cases are going to court, requiring an additional county attorney and increasing the cost for court-appointed attorneys.
The state isn’t paying more for the services, Hemze said. In fact it’s paying less — shifting $120,000 of the cost for family services and child protection from the state to the county next year.
Rising pay and increased benefits for county employees in general are adding about $70,000 to the budget, he said.
“We’re keeping up with the market in terms of wages and also dealing with [employees’] health insurance,” Hemze said. “We want to attract the best and brightest.”