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Washington County begins 2016 budget process

If the 2016 preliminary budget presented last week were to go into effect today, the average taxpayer in Washington County would pay more for a bottle of soda in a gas station, than in county taxes.

Washington County staff brought the preliminary budget and tax levy to the Washington County Board of Commissioners at an Aug. 11 workshop. The numbers presented show a 3.49-percent increase in the proposed property tax levy.

“The combination of rising residential values of existing property and our levy increase is estimated to increase the average valued home’s county property taxes $18 annually, so about $1.50 every month,” Washington County Administrator Molly O’Rourke told commissioners.

Deputy County Administrator Kevin Corbid said the recommended budget is impacted by the same drivers as the 2015 budget. The cost of providing mandated services continues to rise, he said, and state and federal revenue received is not enough to cover those services. Wages and operating expenses make up more than 60 percent of the operating budget, Corbid said.

The proposed budget also provides for an increase to the debt service levy.

“This budget continues the practice of increasing the debt service levy, to allow for the planful use of debt to fund large road and facility projects without large spikes in the property tax levy in any one year,” Corbid said.

Washington County’s budget includes a decrease in County Program Aid of roughly $323,000. That aid is provided by the state to counties, to help pay for mandated services. Corbid attributes the decrease to the fact that the county’s tax base at a faster rate in 2014 and 2015, than the average counties throughout the state.

Most of Washington County’s revenue comes through property taxes, state and federal aid, and fees for services. Since 2012, Corbid noted, the county’s reliance on levy support has decreased from 50 percent to 47 percent.

“While a trend that is showing a declining reliance on the property tax for funding county services is good news, the reliance still continues to be much higher than most believe is reasonable,” he said.

Still, the county has to plan to cover the costs of state mandated programs. In Washington County, about 80 percent of what the county does is mandated by the state or federal government, Corbid said. However, the aid received does not cover those costs, so the county relies on property taxes to fund those programs.

Recommended budget

As proposed, the county’s net tax levy increases by 3.49 percent, for a total of $92.8 million. Non-levy revenue is estimated to be around $94.1 million, and Land and Water Legacy Program tax levy accounts for $1.05 million. The bond projects may include up to $20 million.

The operating expenditures increased by 3.46 percent, for an estimated budget item of $157.2 million. Capital expenditures likewise increased, by 7.9 percent, to an estimated $26.6 million.

“The increase in the capital expenditure line reflects an increase in road projects,” Corbid said. “It is not uncommon for the capital expenditure line item to fluctuate as the number of road projects being started varies from year to year.

Countywide, the estimated market value change from 2015 to 2016 is 2.8 percent. By comparison, the increase from 2014 to 2015 was 12 percent.

The county is also experiencing an increase in new construction, for an estimated $304 million.

“This year’s taxes are not being impacted by the significant shift of taxes from businesses to residences, as occurred in 2015, when residence values increased at a much faster rate than commercial and industrial property” Corbid said.

The increase on county tax to a median value home is $18, from $670 in 2015 to $688 in 2016. A median value home in Washington County is currently valued at $247,400, for 2016. Corbid said.

“This organization is made up of nearly 1,200 individuals who strive each day to provide excellent service to our customers, clients and residents, and I think this budget gives them the resources needed to do that effectively,” O’Rourke said.

The budget spans the 12 departments within Washington County. Each department has different needs and requests, O’Rourke said, so department leaders will be presenting that information in a series of budget workshops through Sept. 8.

All budget meetings are open to the public and are held at the Government Center in Stillwater during the regular board meetings on Tuesday mornings. The meetings are also being broadcast on local cable channels, and are streamed online through the county’s website,

The Washington County Board is expected to approve the 2016 preliminary budget and tax levy at its Sept. 15 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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