Board OKs preliminary levy, budget

Many residential property owners to see drop in tax bill


Many Washington County residential property owners could see slightly lower county tax bills under a 2014 preliminary levy and budget approved by the Board of Commissioners Tuesday.

The county’s 2014 proposed $147.4 million operating budget is 3.3 percent higher than the 2013 budget, and the preliminary $86.7 million levy is .66 percent higher than the 2013 levy, according to Deputy County Administrator Kevin Corbid.

Owners of $207,000 median-valued home in the county would see a total county tax bill of $626, compared to $630 this year, Corbid said.

Approval of the 2014 preliminary levy and budget, along with approvals of the Regional Railroad and Housing and Redevelopment authorities’ proposed levies and RRA budget, came days before the state’s Sept. 15 deadline for local governments to certify their preliminary levies.

The County Board plans a Dec. 3 public hearing on the budget and levy and will vote Dec. 17 on a final 2014 levy and budget. State law allows the county to set a final levy at or less than the preliminary figure approved Tuesday. Corbid added that other factors between now and the end of the year could affect final 2014 budget numbers.
Other highlights of the 2014 preliminary levy and proposed budget package include a more than $1 million Land and Water Legacy levy, $85 million in non-levy revenue and $32.1 million in capital improvement expenditures, Corbid said.

Two major sources of non-levy revenue in 2014 are increased state aid to the county after the 2013 Legislature restored full aid to local governments and federal and state funds for implementing the Affordable Care Act and MNChoices.

“The most significant increase in the budget is state aid,” Corbid said.

The county expects to receive $9 million in state aid next year, which is the amount the county last received in 2003, before the legislature cut aid to local governments, he added.

The restored state aid also comes as the county’s population has grown by 30,000, or about a 14 percent growth rate, Corbid said.

“The increased state aid allows the county to reduce its reliance on the property tax levy,” he said.

Another factor aiding the county’s 2014 levy and budget is rising market value of residential property, according to Corbid. There has been an estimated $237 million in new construction in the county this year.

Falling residential market values in 2012 and 2013 meant commercial and industrial property and apartments picked up a larger share of the levies in those years. Corbid said officials see a different scenario this year.

“For taxes paid in 2014, we’re actually seeing some increase (in values) in most residential properties in the county. The impact we were seeing in the last couple of years with the shifting of the (tax) burden to commercial and industrial property from residential, that will not occur in 2014. There will be very little shifting of the burden.”

However, Corbid said it is too early for county officials to know how commercial, industrial and apartment properties will be affected by the 2014 levy. He added that data would likely not be available until mid-November.

“Right now, I don’t think we know the impact,” he said.

Corbid said the 2014 budget contains almost 20 new jobs, with most new positions addressing the ACA and MNChoices health care programs. Other positions are in the Sheriff’s Office and Washington County Library, which plans to open its Forest Lake and Cottage Grove branches on Sundays.

But Corbid notes that the bulk of the costs for the new positions related to ACA and MNChoices are paid by federal and state funds.

Commissioners praised Corbid and other county officials for developing a 2014 budget and levy that addresses the county’s needs while keeping property taxes low.

“We are striving for a balanced budget. I feel the board is fiscally conservative while responding to our residents’ needs,” said Chairwoman Lisa Weik. Today, we are setting a ceiling, a cap, in these areas.”

Contact Erik Sandin at [email protected]