Washington County commissioners on Tuesday unanimously approved a 2019 budget that will be paid for in part with a 5.47 percent property tax levy increase.
The levy will fund more than a third of the county’s $287 million budget. A county homeowner with a house valued at $273,000 will see a $36 property tax increase in the county portion of the tax bill, offset by a $1 reduction in the county’s Regional Rail Authority levy.
The increase is spurred in part by the county’s 1.5 percent population growth and the cost of services that the state requires counties to fund, officials said.
Budget priorities include investments in public safety and safety net services. The new budget funds two additional deputy positions in the Sheriff’s Office and a probation officer in Community Corrections.
“It is a large budget, but it does accomplish a lot,” Commissioner Lisa Weik said. “It does accomplish improving lives, and it is fiscally constrained.”
The property tax levy increase is estimated to result in a drop of the county’s tax rate by 1.5 percent, which is possible because of the expected expansion of the tax base. It would mark the fifth year in the last six that the county’s tax rate has declined.
On Friday, Anoka County commissioners approved a 4.9 percent tax levy increase, citing mounting costs in public safety and jumps in employee health care premiums. It was the county’s biggest levy hike since 2009.
The board voted 6-1 to adopt the levy, with Commissioner Matt Look dissenting. The levy will fund about $136 million of the county’s total budget of $292 million.
For the owner of an average Anoka County home valued at $213,000, that means paying about $44 more a year in county property taxes.
County officials said the hike will help cover costs related to boarding inmates in other county jails due to lack of space at Anoka County’s facility. The county also has beefed up staffing and salaries in its 911 center to help cut turnover, Budget Director Patti Hetrick said.
Commissioners touted the county’s efforts to minimize taxes in check in recent years, citing an average levy increase of about 1 percent since 2010.
“It’s about cutting the fat out and not cutting the muscle out,” Commissioner Scott Schulte said at Friday’s meeting.
But Look said the county needs to look at the services it provides and to remember its core mission.
“Arguably when every agency has an increase — whether it’s city, county, school, state, federal — cumulatively … you’re seeing double-digit increases. That’s harmful, I think,” he said.