The largest property tax levy increase in years was proposed last week for Washington County to cover the costs of increasing state mandates and new demands for services driven by population growth.
Whether the 6.9 percent increase stands will depend on the five County Board members, some of whom voiced discomfort after a 2018 budget presentation by Deputy Administrator Kevin Corbid.
“I have significant concerns on the 6.9 levy,” said Commissioner Stan Karwoski, who represents Oakdale. “I have constituents saying, ‘Keep taxes low,’ and I hear that.”
The proposed 6.9 percent levy increase may not fall on individual property owners as heavily as one would guess. That’s because of the county’s broadening tax base, which includes $427 million in new construction since 2016, and a growing emphasis on commercial development.
The owner of a median-valued home, which is $257,000, would pay about $35 more annually.
The county administration proposed a $102.7 million property tax levy for next year, with non-levy revenue expected at $109.8 million.
Operating expenses under the budget proposal would be $176.3 million, with capital expenditures recommended at $31.9 million.
As do other counties, Washington must pay annually for programs required by state law that often come with little or no financial support. Corbid said the county will receive almost $1 million more in state funding for the programs next year, but he added that the cost for just six of them — most in the social services arena — will exceed that figure.
Commissioner Karla Bigham, a former DFL state legislator, condemned the state practice of what’s known as “unfunded mandates,” which account for about 80 percent of county budgets.
“Give us the money to do it, and do it right, so we can get results,” she said. Appeals to the Legislature are “falling on deaf ears,” she said.
Washington County has other financial challenges, Corbid said in the budget presentation, which kicks off a month of department-by-department budget reviews.
Road upgrades remain a priority, as is a major crimes unit in the county attorney’s office that has targeted sex trafficking. County officials want to make more technology improvements to secure private data. Lake Elmo’s library will return to the county system after six years under city control.
Wages and health insurance also drive next year’s budget costs, as the county rebounds from years of little or no increases.
In each of the past three years, the County Board has approved 3.49 percent levy increases, following four years when the levy was flat or reduced. Corbid said that trend “shows the sensitivity of the County Board to the hardships that were being felt at that time.”
The budget proposal calls for a slight increase in salaries for the County Board. However, commissioners have voted against taking pay increases for themselves since 2009. They make $52,713, the lowest salary among commissioners in the seven metro counties.
Commissioners won’t take action on the 2018 proposal until Sept. 28, when they decide on a levy ceiling. They will take a final vote on the budget in December.
The proposed 2018 Washington County budget and the proposed Community Development Agency budget can be viewed at www.co.washington.mn.us/403/Budget.