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Commissioners split on budget vote

A divided Washington County Board narrowly passed a 2010 budget plan that slightly increases property tax collections and cuts spending.

Board members on Tuesday voted 3-2 to approve the $183.4 million budget. They put up the same vote for the property tax levy, which will increase 1.94 percent next year. Spending is reduced about 1.4 percent.

Commissioners Myra Peterson, Gary Kriesel and Dennis Hegberg supported the budget and levy. Kriesel said the levy increase was required in order to protect essential county services.

Commissioners also said the levy increase is needed because Gov. Tim Pawlenty and state lawmakers may cut back on state aid to local governments next year to solve a $1.2 billion state deficit.

"I believe that with the additional cuts that will be made at the state level, we're going to need every dime we have," Peterson said.

The County Board should have approved funding for the Land and Water Legacy program and made equal spending cuts to other county programs so there is no levy increase, Commissioners Lisa Weik and Bill Pulkrabek said. They voted against the budget and levy.

"I feel that in these difficult economic times, now is not the time to raise people's property taxes," Pulkrabek said. "Now is the time to do the exact opposite."

The levy increase serves two purposes. A 1 percent hike will help to pay back $10 million in borrowed funds for the voter-approved land and water acquisition program. Revenue from the remaining 0.94 percent levy increase will be directed to the county's operating budget.

A levy increase does not mean a tax increase for all property owners. For instance, a home valued at $250,000 may see a $22 drop in the county portion of the property tax bill, according to the county.

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