The Washington County Board of Commissioners invited comments from the public Dec. 3 on the county’s proposed 2014 budget and levy. No residents spoke at the hearing.
The proposed levy under discussion is part of an overall $147.4 million county operating budget for 2014, and a $23.1 million capital expenditures budget.
The board gave the budget and levy initial approval in September, and by state law has until December to finalize them.
At next Tuesday's meeting, the final meeting of the year, the board may lower the levy approved in September, but may not raise it.
The proposals include a tax levy that will result in the owner of a home valued at $207,000 – one that increased in value by 2.4 percent from last year, the countywide average for residential property – seeing a decrease of $4 in the county’s portion of the property tax paid in 2014.
The recommended budget has a property tax levy of $86.7 million, a .66 percent increase from 2013. The tax rate is expected to decline by more than 4 percent.
If approved, the levy increase would be the first county property tax levy increase in four years, after the levy was reduced in 2012 and remained flat in 2011 and 2013. The levy increase is less than the 1.1 percent increase allowed under state law.
Countywide, the Estimated Market Value of property has increased 3.1 percent over 2013, with $237.5 million in new construction added in the county. The median value change in residential homes over 2013 is 2.4 percent.
In September, the board gave its preliminary approval to a budget that:
- has a proposed tax levy for payable 2014 of $87,713,700, including $1,058,400 for Land and Water Legacy programs;
- an overall county budget for 2014 of $181,832,900;
- a proposed tax levy for the Regional Rail Authority for payable 2014 at $616,600, and a budget for the same amount for the rail authority;
- a proposed tax levy for the Washington County Housing and Redevelopment Authority at $3,432,203;
In addition to the county tax levy, the budget includes a $1.058 million Land and Water Legacy tax levy. The Land and Water Legacy program is a voter-approved $20 million bond referendum fund used to purchase interests in lands to improve water quality of rivers, lakes and streams; protect drinking water resources; purchase parkland; preserve wetlands and woodlands; and protect land along water bodies from development.
Non-levy revenue is expected to be $85.7 million, and capital expenditures are set at $24.4 million. Operating expenditures, which will grow next year by 3.86 percent over 2013, are set at $148.3 million. Part of the increase is to pay for costs associated with implementing the federal Affordable Care Act.
Key initiatives in the 2014 budget include:
- increased library hours, namely Sunday hours at Hardwood Creek and Cottage Grove, and additional e-materials for lending;
- even-year election costs;
- increased pavement preservation funding to resurface county roads;
- Sheriff’s Office fleet replacement, mobile crime scene van, and a 911 phone system update;
- Lake Elmo Park Reserve Swim Pond improvements;
- technology improvements; and
- issuance of a $5 million bond for voter approved Land and Water Legacy Program.
The County Board has also made the decision to reduce the County Environmental Charge from a 37.5 percent charge on garbage service, to 35 percent, saving property owners in the county $440,000 a year.
The board also will vote on the county’s five-year capital improvement plan Dec. 17.