Washington County plans small tax levy increase
After holding the annual budget hearing last week where they didn’t hear any opposition or praise from taxpayers, Washington County officials are set to approve a slight increase in the tax levy next week.
The final levy amount cannot exceed a proposed 0.66 percent increase during the Dec. 17, meeting where the County Board will also review a five-year spending plan.
Audience seats were empty during the budget hearing, held Dec. 3, at the Washington County Government Center, prompting county staff to go around making sure doors were still open to the public.
Commissioner Autumn Lehrke said she was surprised not a single resident attended and that typically a few taxpayers comment on property values.
The countywide estimated market value change increased by 3.1 percent, according to the budget, while the median value change in residential homes went up by 2.4 percent.
The budget hearing summarized changes coming up in 2014, including funding additional Sunday hours at the R.H. Stafford Library, new hires to cover federal health care mandates, tools to help the sheriff’s office process crime scenes and funds for pavement preservation.
County Administrator Molly O’Rourke said the budget provided is “fiscally sound” and will allow the county to continue offering core services.
The levy increase is expected to drop the county’s portion of taxes by $4 on a home valued at $207,000, Deputy Administrator Kevin Corbid said.
However, the new levy does not include an increase in taxes due to a $5 million bond for the voter-approved land and water legacy program.
If a new bond is sold in 2014, an average home will see an increase of $5 per year, Corbid said.
County officials also emphasized that the nine new full-time employees in the community services department who will handle federal health care cases will be supported by non-levy dollars.
After years of cuts, state aid is set to increase, Corbid said, with help from federal dollars as well to pay for those positions.
One of the closely watched key initiatives in the 2014 budget has been restoring library hours and expanding eBook selections.
After a successful 2013, Washington County Library Director Pat Conley said Sunday hours between Labor Day and Memorial Day attracted enough foot traffic to keep the hours.
All libraries were closed Sundays in 2012 due to budget cuts. Then in 2013, the Woodbury location was the only one in Washington County to reopen Sundays during the school year.
The 2014 library budget also proposes to reopen the Cottage Grove and Forest Lake libraries on Sundays during the school year.
The final levy will be adopted at the 9 a.m. meeting Dec. 17, at the Washington County Government Center.