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Washington County Board Approves Levy Increase

2010 January 1
A follow up to my last post on the Washington County Commissioners:

County budget braced for state funding cuts

Board approves small levy increase

by Mark Nicklawske
Regional Editor

Wednesday, December 16, 2009 12:26 PM CST
STILLWATER – County officials avoided “sledgehammer” cuts to services and programs and funded an open space preservation program with a small tax levy increase last week.

The Washington County Board voted 3-2 to approve a 1.94 percent property tax levy increase, which includes a 1-percent increase to fund a voter-approved Land and Water Legacy Program, at its Dec. 15 regular meeting. Despite the levy increase, officials said the county portion of most residential property tax bills will decrease due to a decline in area property values.

County residents have seen the value of their homes decrease an average of 7-percent in the last year. Home values are used as a basis for setting property tax collection rates.

Under the new budget plan, a home valued at $250,000 – down from $268,000 in 2009 – will pay $656 or $14 less to the county in 2010. The payment is a 2.1 percent decrease from 2009.

County Board Chairwoman Myra Peterson said the county was hit hard in 2009 with state funding cuts and she expected budget hits in 2010. She said it is not time to begin further budget cuts.

“With the additional cuts at the state level I think we’re going to need every dime we can get,” she said. “It’s going to be a rough couple of years and we’re going to be hard pressed to fund these services.”

–The county provides social services, maintains a transportation network and funds sheriff and court services for approximately 225,000 residents.

Peterson said the state has piled numerous unfunded mandates on the county and then, through unallotment, cut program funding in 2009.

The county has eliminated 27 full-time positions and instituted a variety of cost cutting measures for 2010 savings. The cuts include:

• A new Public Works Department energy management system and cross-training staff;
• Accounting and finance staff reductions of 6-percent;
• Reduced library hours at four branch locations;
• Chemical Health Service reductions of $250,000;

But District 2 Commissioner Bill Pulkrabek said the county could make more cuts.

“Now is not the time to raise people’s property taxes,” he said. “We should be doing exactly the opposite, we should be giving back.”

Earlier this month, Pulkrabek presented the board with a plan to cut an additional $830,000 from its budget. The plan was rejected by the board.

Pulkrabek said the county needed to begin its open space preservation program but the move should not increase the county levy.

The county levy includes $850,000 for a $10 million Land and Water Legacy bond payment. The bonding money will be used to purchase and preserve open space in environmentally sensitive areas throughout the county.

“My vote against the levy is not a vote against the Land and Water Legacy program,” he said. “I support cuts in the budget to get the budget below the 1-percent.”

District 3 Commissioner Gary Kriesel said the budget includes more than $5.5 million in state funding which may never make it into the county coffers.

“We’re coming in for a hard landing,” he said. “We’re going to have serious challenges going into next year.”

Kriesel said the county already has the second lowest tax rate and per capita spending in the metro area. He said further budget cuts would put the county in a “free fall” and act like a “sledgehammer to our core and essential services.”

Peterson, Kriesel and District 1 Commissioner Dennis Hegberg voted in favor of the 2010 property tax levy. Pulkrabek and District 5 Commissioner Lisa Weik voted against the plan.

Get Involved! Contact the Washington County Commissioners today and let them know how you feel about this issue. And, take the time to contact Commissioners Pulkrabek and Weik and say thank you for voting NO. Click on each of the Commissioners photos below to see their contact information:
Voted NO to the Levy Increase:
Voted YES to the Levy Increase:
One Response
  1. January 2, 2010

    Dear Mark Nicklawske (Regional Editor):
    Please FOLLOW my work as a county commissioner at (or book-mark to your Favorites folder and check my twitter-feed from time to time).

    I believe that to achieve better accountability and transparency for public servants, ALL elected office holders should be REQUIRED to post their schedules and discuss votes on TWITTER, or other social media.

    And thank you for your posts on this website regarding local govt budget issues. But I would urge caution by only focusing on negative energy reported at public meetings.

    My business-like conduct at the county early fall budget workshops didn’t get much press. And the high-energy Nov county budget workshop energy that you have focused on in past blogs was only the “post-game show” after the REAL work for holding the lid on property taxes was done by me in Washington County at the SEPT 15, 2009 board meeting where I voted to cut taxes during the PRELIMINARY LEVY vote.

    The preliminary levy is important b/c the levy usually does not change (decrease) from what is set three months prior to the final budget vote taken in Dec.

    In order to have a more complete picture of events, please note the following:
    On Sept 15, 2009 I was the LONE VOTE for a 0% Levy increase. Five (5) of five commissioners were present at the 9/15 board meeting. I also asked staff on 9/15/09 to bring $850,000 dollars in budget cuts to the Dec meeting (to cancel out a 1% increase for the Land +Water Legacy Program). That got ZERO media coverage.

    I repeat: I asked for $850,000 dollars in tax cuts at the Sept 15, 2009 preliminary budget meeting and was the ONLY commissioner to do so….

    All of this was documented in Sept on my TWITTER FEED.
    Bill Pulkrabek did not show fiscal restraint when he voted on Sept 15, 2009 to RAISE and cap our county property taxes by 1.94% when he supported the staff-proposed Option B.

    I had offered and supported Option D on 9/15/09, which was a ZERO Levy increase, with added spending cuts totaling $850,000 dollars to balance out a 1% increase for LWLP.

    My SECOND (pleasant) SURPRISE came when Commissioner Myra Peterson voted against Bill’s option B (at the time she supported the levy increase but did NOT support LWLP) and so voted against Bill’s motion to increase the levy.
    SUMMARY: on Sept 15, the board vote was 3:2 with the two female commissioners voting against a 1.94% property tax increase.
    Disappointingly, Bill’s approach to wait until Dec to vote against a levy increase was TOO LITTLE too late…

    And I do agree with your previous posts here regarding the need for greater attention to local office holders and how they vote. There’s no Taxpayers League for city council members, or school board office holders.

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