Washington County board begins crafting 2016 county budget

 The Washington County Board of Commissioners began the process of crafting the 2016 budget for the county Aug. 11.

The recommended budget would increase the county net tax levy by 3.49 percent, to $92.8 million, and is based on the county receiving non-levy revenue of $94.1 million. If the budget is approved with the recommended increase in the property tax levy, it would mean that the median valued home in the county of $247,400, assuming its value increased just more than 1 percent since 2015, would have an $18 increase in its county property tax levy.

The county’s operating expenditures for the year would be $157.2 million, an increase of 3.46 percent, with capital expenditures of $26.6 million, excluding bond-funded projects.

Over the next weeks, county commissioners will review each department’s proposed budgets. All budget meetings are open to the public at the Government Center in Stillwater during regular board meetings Tuesday mornings, are cablecast on local cable channels, and are webstreamed through the county’s website. The webstreamed meetings are also archived on the website at www.co.washington.mn.us.Budget presentations may also be viewed on the website by searching the word “budget.”

Key initiatives in the 2016 budget include:

•  transitioning to electronic files in the public safety agencies, and doing a jail security upgrade;

•  increasing hours at the county’s Environmental Center and increasing business recycling and composting;

• implementing changes in child protection programs, funded by state grants;

• increased road construction and maintenance, and funding minimum wage increases for seasonal employees;

• investment in library programming in communities and in the library’s collection;

• paying for election services during a presidential election year.

The county enters the 2016 budget process in a strong financial position, with balanced budgets, and the highest ratings from investing ratings agencies on its sound fiscal operations. Countywide, the estimated market value of property increased by 2.8 percent from 2015, and the county added $304 million in new constructions.

Factors that are considered in crafting the budget include:

•  continued pressure on the county  property tax to fund state mandated services;

• employee compensation and health insurance costs;

•  debt service funding;

• service demands from a growing population and the lingering impact of the recession;

• funding and staffing support for needed road improvements; and

•  out-of-home placement of children.

While about 80 percent of the county’s programs are mandated by the state and federal governments, funding from those governments do not cover the full costs of the programs. It is expected that the general state aid Washington County will receive next year will dip $322,600 from 2015.

It is expected that some county fees will increase, to cover the cost of providing services. Debt service, which is payments for borrowed funds for capital projects, is also expected to increase by 5 percent. The county takes on debt to build assets such as roads, buildings, and technology.

The proposed budget covers negotiated wage agreements, and health care costs. It is expected that the county will add 16 employees in 2016, but with a growing county population, the number of employees remains at 4.6 employees for every 1,000 residents.

The County Board will receive detailed budget presentations from county departments through the rest of August and in the beginning of September. The board will set a preliminary levy Sept. 15. A public hearing on the budget will be conducted Dec. 1, and the final budget will be set Dec. 15.

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