DULUTH – St. Louis County Board members on Tuesday approved a maximum 1.48% property levy increase, which officials said would be countered by growth of its tax base.

At a board meeting earlier this month, County Administrator Kevin Gray said the county's property tax base increased by 5% from last year. For many property owners, that means the county portion of their tax bills will shrink.

"Every year we are careful with how we balance the need for services with the cost of providing them," Board Chairman Mike Jugovich said in a news release. "But this year more than ever, we know people in our county are hurting because of the economic impacts of the pandemic, and we are doing all we can to lessen the tax impact on them while continuing to provide the service level our citizens expect and deserve."

A 1.48% levy increase would bring in more than $147 million next year in property taxes, which make up about a third of the county's budget. A larger portion of revenue comes from state and federal funds, which some officials worry could be cut in coming years due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The county's 2020 budget was $407 million, and the local government had $51 million in cash-flow reserves at the beginning of the year. Gray said the county expects to dip into those funds.

St. Louis County will also continue to leave some positions unfilled and work to reduce travel, training and energy costs.

Part of the tax base increase is a result of the reassessment of commercial and industrial properties in West Duluth and downtown, with estimated worth rising by a combined $100 million after the county's latest revaluations. Though officials previously acknowledged the potential hardships this creates for property owners during the pandemic, they said the change was "long overdue" as some parcels had not been reappraised for 10 to 15 years.

The County Board will discuss its 2021 budget later this fall and vote to adopt a final plan in December.

Katie Galioto • 612-673-4478