Commissioners for Hennepin and Ramsey counties on Tuesday set ceilings for their respective 2016 property tax levies, with each board sticking to hikes recommended by county managers to make up for years of deferred spending.

In Hennepin County, that means next year’s tax collections could grow by up to $31.2 million, a 4.5 percent increase that’s significantly higher than increases in each of the past six years. In Ramsey County, the board set the maximum tax levy at 2.8 percent, about $8 million more than this year’s levy.

As the boards adjust and tweak their proposed budgets in the next few months, they can lower the tax levy but not go higher. Final budgets, which the boards must adopt by the end of the year, typically hew closely to their administration’s recommendations.

The Hennepin County Board voted 6-1 to support County Administrator David Hough’s proposed tax levy. The lone dissenter, Commissioner Jeff Johnson, said he would support such an increase only if the county had already cut to the bone.

“I don’t think we’re there,” he said.

But Board Chairwoman Jan Callison said the increase could have been much higher, given the need to catch up after years of smaller increases. She said the county needed to plug gaps left by state spending that hadn’t kept pace with demand for quality services. “We haven’t cut to the bone … but we’ve looked hard,” she said.

With little discussion, the Ramsey County Board unanimously backed County Manager Julie Kleinschmidt’s proposed 2.8 percent levy increase. While the county has held the line on taxes for a few years, Kleinschmidt said last month that more tax revenue was needed to balance “our community’s needs and wants with our ability to pay.”

Kleinschmidt also proposed a 2.8 property tax levy increase in 2017 for Ramsey County, which sets a biennial rather than an annual budget.

The St. Paul City Council is expected Wednesday to approve Mayor Chris Coleman’s request for a 1.9 percent increase in the city’s portion of the property tax levy.

Regardless of tax levy decisions, household tax bills may go up or down depending on the state tax formula, market value shifts and tax decisions by other jurisdictions.

In other action Tuesday, the Ramsey County Board:

• Approved, on a vote of 6-1, prohibitions on e-cigarette use in public indoor spaces throughout the county that match state restrictions on the use of tobacco cigarettes. Ramsey County also is banning smoking and vaping within 25 feet of a building entrance, open window or ventilation intake, with exceptions for some outdoor dining areas and for those passing through a prohibited zone.

• Approved, on a vote of 7-0, the sale of a lot next to the county-owned Vadnais Sports Center to Peoples Bank for $217,450. The 31,000-square-foot tract is one of three adjacent parcels the county obtained when it bought the troubled sports center last year for $10.55 million. Commissioner Blake Huffman called the sale a reason for celebration, saying that “selling the out lots was a key piece of the financial puzzle” the county took on when it acquired the facility.

 

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