County tax levy might increase 3.45 percent in 2016
With a proposed budget of more than $217 million, the Washington County Board has approved both a preliminary levy and budget for 2016.
Board members approved the proposed 2016 levy and budget at its Sept. 15 meeting. It represents months of work by both county staff and commissioners, but is still open to changes before final approval later this year.
As approved last week, the preliminary property tax levy for 2016 is $93.87 million, a 3.45-percent increase over 2015 tax collections. The proposed levy hike would result in an $18 increase to the county portion of a home valued at $247,400, assuming that home value increased by 1 percent this year, according to county figures.
The preliminary budget was set at $217.15 million.
It is, in board Chairman Gary Kriesel’s opinion, “a good budget.”
“The Great Recession had a significant impact,” he said. “We did a good job of just trying to stay flat, but with the growth and demand in services, we have to do a little catch up.”
Commissioner Karla Bigham noted that about 80 percent of the budget is mandated by state or federal guidelines. While the county does receive funding in the form of aid from both the state and federal governments, Commissioner Lisa Weik pointed out that the county was also subject to about $300,000 in funding cuts during the past year.
Board members and staff have been meeting for the past several weeks to review budget proposals for the coming year. The preliminary budget does include things like extended hours at the environmental center in Woodbury, a new major crimes specialist position in the county attorney’s office and new information technology platforms, she said, but residents still have a chance to weigh in on the proposed budget items.
“This is a structurally balanced budget, but I am looking to hear back from constituents,” Weik said. “We are able to make cuts, so if constituents don’t value these same initiatives and proposals, they can certainly contact me or the County Board.”
The board will continue to work on the budget in the coming weeks. A Truth-in-Taxation public hearing is scheduled for Dec. 1.
Other budgets, levies
Commissioners also approved, on a 4-1 vote, the proposed tax levy for the Washington County Housing and Redevelopment Authority.
Kriesel cast the dissenting vote. While he agrees with many of the items in the budget — like a plan for increased senior housing — he cited concerns with priorities and funding streams within the budget.
Bigham, though, endorsed the HRA levy, saying it has many pieces that will be beneficial to her district.
“I’m supporting this because I’m excited about the future with the community development and the process that will begin here shortly,” she said. “It is time, I think, to invest in economic development tools that will make this county stronger.
“More importantly, the Red Rock Crossing development is the city of Newport, this is a major portion of this levy. I’m excited about the expansion of workforce, housing and the mixed-use development down there, so I’ll be supporting this,” Bigham said.
Commissioners also certified the property tax levy for the Washington County Regional Rail Authority at $750,000. The Regional Rail Authority’s budget for 2016 was set at $750,600.