Board pleased with 2014 proposed budget

Commissioners term package ‘responsible;’ stress keeping AAA bond rating

The Washington County Board of Commissioners had positive words for the administration’s 2014 proposed budget presented by Deputy Administrator Kevin Corbid at a Tuesday workshop.

The proposal has a property tax levy of $86.7 million, a .66 percent increase from this year, which is part of an overall $147.4 million operating budget and $23.1 million capital expenditure budget. The levy increase is less than than the 1.2 percent increase allowed by Minnesota law.

Before delving into the budget’s details, Corbid explained that because the county’s needs are changing, the “guiding principles” of how the county creates an annual budget must also change.

“Our population is changing: more diverse, aging, growing,” Corbid said.

He added that there are 2,500 new residents moving into the county each year and the budget must contribute to the county’s long-term health. Roads, bridges and technology were among the items mentioned as budget targets. The county currently has AAA bond rating, the highest rating with Standard and Poors and Moody’s. According to County Administrator Molly O’Rourke, the county is one of less than 70 counties nationwide that maintain a AAA bond rating. Commissioners stressed the importance of continuing to hold that top bond rating.

“The gold standard for Washington County is the AAA bonding,” said District 3 Commissioner Gary Kriesel.

The 2014 proposed budget includes a $2 million increase in county program aid, which brings the county’s aid up to the same level as aid received in 2003. Since 2003, the county’s population has increased by 30,000. However, administration officials said increased aid in the next few years is unlikely.

County residents owning vehicles will see the  Wheelage Tax rise from $5 to $10, adding more than $1 million in revenue to the county. The Wheelage tax increase was implemented in the last legislative session and is paid by vehicle owners when they buy or renew license plates or tabs.

The 2014 budget’s 0.66 percent tax levy increase is the first levy rise since the 1.9 percent boost in 2010. The 0.66 percent increase allows for $570,000 in revenue for the county, but it is less than the state limit.

The owner of a home at the county’s median value of $207,000 would have paid $630 in property taxes in 2013. But in 2014, despite the 0.66 percent increase in the tax levy, that same homeowner would pay $626 in property taxes, a $4 savings.

The 2014 proposed budget also includes a 5 percent increase in the debt service levy, which is a standard practice for the county. The debt service levy dictates how much money the county can raise via bonds.

“This practice has served the county well,” Corbid said.

The Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, will also increase the county’s costs in the coming year. An estimate of 2,600 new Medicaid cases as well as an increase in food supplement cases will require new personnel. However, 75 percent of costs would be funded by the federal government with the remainder covered by the county.
Other key initiatives for 2014 include upgrades to the county’s technology infrastructure, including a virtual desktop infrastructure and back-up disks; restoring Sunday hours at the Washington County Library Hardwood Creek and Park Groves branches, maintaining Sunday hours at the R.H. Stafford branch and more money for electronic reading material; even-year election costs; fleet vehicle replacement and the installation of a mobile crime scene van, and various Public Works improvements.

All commissioners were quick to praise Corbid and O’Rourke for completing the budget and the quality of the proposal.

“I think it’s a responsible, conservative budget,” said District 1 Commissioner Fran Miron.

Miron went on to praise experienced Commissioners Kriesel, Lisa Weik and Autumn Lehrke for their direction and work during the recession and “responsibility with taxpayers’ dollars.”

Department budget workshops will continue through August and September. On Sept. 10, commissioners will set the 2014 preliminary levy.

Contact Amanda White at amanda.white@ecm-inc.com

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