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Washington County considers largest levy hike in nearly decade

The Washington County 2018 budget could include the biggest property tax hike in nearly 10 years.

A proposed $102.7 million levy would add about $35 to the annual property tax bill for the owner a home assessed at $257,000 — the median value in the county. The 6.9 percent levy increase would be the largest since 2008.

Deputy Administrator Kevin Corbid made the levy request at an Aug. 8 budget workshop.

A number of financial pressures are at fault, he said, not least of which are the ballooning costs of providing essential health, housing and legal aid services to its residents.

The county is tasked to do so by the state, which county officials say has passed off more responsibilities to local governments.

Corbid said that six state-mandated programs alone will cost the county an estimated $1.15 million. And while the state has come through with an additional $990,900 in county program aid for 2018, it still leaves the county with an shortage of $163,700.

"While this a welcome increase, the aid ... does not cover the cost of state mandates," Corbid said.

It was nothing that Washington County Commissioner Karla Bigham hadn't heard before. Bigham, of Cottage Grove, has frequently criticized what she called unfunded mandates, where the state imposes more human services but doesn't provide enough money to pay for them.

Bigham, a former state representative, said she is so disgusted that she named her fantasy football team the Unfunded Mandates.

"This continued practice of balancing the state's budget on the backs of counties just has to stop," Bigham said after Corbid's report. "Enough's enough...Counties are the safety nets. But my God, give us the money to do this."

The six state mandated programs include:

• MNChoices, an independent living support program for the elderly and disabled

• Cost-sharing for regional treatment centers;

• Out-of-home child placement;

• Child protection services

• State public radio system upgrade

• Chemical dependency treatment.

Other factors are also squeezing the county budget: road and bridge construction, the cost of keeping the major crimes unit in the county attorney's office, debt service payments, cyber-security upgrades and the re-absorption of the Lake Elmo Library.

The board also heard budget reports last week from three other departments: Accounting and Finance, Human Resources and Information Technology. The board will continue to review the budget of each department at weekly meetings into September. All are open to the public. Commissioners will vote on a preliminary levy Sept. 26. Once set, the levy can be lowered but not increased. Final levy approval will be in December.

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William Loeffler

William Loeffler is a playwright and journalist from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He worked 15 years writing features for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. He has also written travel stories based on his trips to all seven continents. He and his wife, Michelle, ran the Boston Marathon in 2009. 

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