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County’s 2016 budget, levy ready for board approval

All that’s left for the Washington County Board of Commissioners to do on the 2016 budget and tax levy is say, “Aye.”

Nine months of financial planning for the coming year will wrap up at the Dec. 15 regular Washington County board meeting, when the 2016 budget and tax levy goes before commissioners for approval.

The budget includes a 3.49 percent increase in the county’s net tax levy over 2015, bringing it to $92.8 million, according to Washington County Administrator Molly O’Rourke.Those were numbers O’Rourke shared during a Dec. 1 public hearing for the county’s tax levy and budget. What those numbers mean to taxpayers is that property taxes on a $240,600 “median value” home in Washington County will increase by $16, to approximately $697 in 2016.

Of course, the increase to individual properties depends upon each property’s own assessed value. Countywide, the estimated market value is up 2.7 percent for 2016, Deputy County Administrator Kevin Corbid said, which is a smaller increase than last year’s 12 percent. The median value change in residential homes for 2016 is an increase of 1 percent. It was as high as 13.7 percent going into 2015.

The recommended budget also includes an increase in the non-levy funds of 6.67 percent, O’Rourke said. Much of that increase is intergovernmental revenue — state and federal funding — and is typically assigned to programs within the Health and Human Services Department, or is related to road and bridge construction budgets.

If the county’s Land and Water Legacy Program tax levy is included, the county’s net levy increases by 3.45 percent, to $93.9 million.

The total operating expenditures, excluding capital and debt, increased by 3.46 percent. The majority of the operating funds, O’Rourke said, falls under the county’s personnel services area. In addition to funding salaries and benefits for the 1,200 employees of Washington County, the operating expenses also cover increases that came as a result of a compensation study from 2014, and the subsequent adjustments made from that study.

“Wages and benefit costs make up more than 60 percent of the operating budget,” Corbid said. “We are a service business. We provide services through our staff.”

The budget also allows for 16.52 net new positions in 2016, Corbid said. Of those, 12 positions are slated for partial or full funding, while the remainder — public works positions added in to meet the increased needs in the roads and bridge construction field — will come out of the non-levy expenditures.

Of the new positions, Corbid added, several are special project staff needed for the 2016 Presidential election , while others have been added in conjunction with the county’s work with recycling and solid waste management.

The revenue sources for the coming year show a decrease in county program aid, but an increase in intergovernmental revenues, as well as an increase in fees and services, and the debt service levy.

“The other factor that has a direct impact on the property tax change is the state aid provided by the state to pay for state-mandated services,” Corbid said. “This year, our county program aid is declining by just more than $300,000, and that gap needed to be filled by either property taxes or an increase in fees for services or other non-property tax revenue.”

Two residents were in attendance at the county’s public hearing. A period to review and question property tax statements with staff was set up beforehand, and several residents did take advantage of that opportunity, as well.

Residents can view the entire public hearing on the county’s website, www.co.washington.mn.us, by following the County Board/County Board Meeting Webstream links, and clicking on the video from the Dec. 1 meeting.

The Washington County Board of Commissioners is expected to approve the 2016 budget and tax levy at the Dec. 15 regular meeting. Board members are also expected to approve the county’s capital improvement plan, which in part lays out county road improvements for the next five years, at the same meeting.

Michelle Leonard

Michelle Leonard joined the Woodbury Bulletin staff in November, 2014, after 14 years covering news for the Bulletin's sister publication, the Farmington Rosemount Independent Town Pages.  Michelle earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Mass Communications: News-Editorial from Mankato State University in 1991. She is an active member of the American Legion Auxiliary Clifford Larson Unit 189 of Farmington, and served as the 2014-15 Third District President to the American Legion Auxiliary Department of Minnesota. Michelle is also the volunteer coordinator for the Minnesota Newspaper Museum which is open annually during the Minnesota State Fair. She has earned Minnesota Newspaper Association awards in Investigative Reporting, Local News Coverage, Feature Photography and Column Writing. 

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