Homeowners in Hennepin County could see their tax bills rise by as much as 5.5 percent next year if a proposed hike is passed by commissioners.
David Hough, the administrator of Minnesota's most populous county, with more than 1.25 million residents in an area that includes Minneapolis and much of the west metro, presented a proposed $2.4 billion budget on Tuesday.
Of that budget, more than a third will come from the property tax levy, which Hough wants to increase by 5.5 percent next year, generating an additional $43 million to cover rising costs and service improvements.
That would add $75 to the county tax bill for the average homeowner in Hennepin County, which is someone whose house is valued at $281,000.
The extra money, Hough said, would be used to build upon some of the county's priorities, particularly when it comes to child protection services.
Hough said the county has been having great success in changes it's made to its child protection program, focusing on early intervention and child wellbeing, improving "quality of life" for children and families "to prevent the need for child protection."
After boosting its child protection budgets by $50 million over the past three years, the county has seen a reduction in shelter placements for at-risk children and an increase in child placements with kin. It says it's also improved response times and reduced employee turnover.
But with some of the funding for those changes coming from reserves, Hough says this needs to end.
"We cannot continue to draw down fund balances, we must find ways to fund this permanently," he said, adding: "We must seize the opportunity to build a legacy of working together to accomplish great things. In order to do so it's imperative we make critical investments now to accomplish this work."
Some of the additional money will also go towards pay increases and benefit improvements for the county's 8,384 full-time employees, which is 229 fewer than last year.
"Salary and benefits account for a third of the county budget, and in order maintain competitive, we need to recruit and retain a first-rate workforce," Hough said.
A proposed $475 million capital program meanwhile includes $58 million for improvements to the Northpoint Health and Wellness Center in north Minneapolis, and $252 million towards bus rapid transit and the ongoing SW Light Rail project.
The Star Tribune reports that county commissioner and GOP gubernatorial candidate Jeff Johnson objected to the tax hike, saying the levy was too high and disagrees with using a portion of the money for a legal fund for people facing deportation.
“I don’t think it’s sustainable for our constituents over time,” he said, according to the newspaper. "We need to do a better job of focusing on what is the most important first."
The county will discuss the budget over the coming months, with public feedback also invited. It will then make a final decision this coming December.