Board majority says the changes are reasonable
BY KATY ZILLMER
For the first time in two years, the Hennepin County Board of Commissioners approved a budget with property tax and expenditure increases.
But Hennepin County’s Director of the Office of Budget and Finance David Lawless stressed that the increases are modest, even when combining the general operating budget with that of the Regional Rail Authority and Housing and Redevelopment Authority.
The board approved the operating budget 6-1. Seventh District Commissioner Jeff Johnson cast the dissenting vote. He voted the same on the rail authority and housing and redevelopment budgets.
“If you look back at the history of the county, our agenda generally includes wanting more and needed more in property tax,” Johnson said during the Dec. 11 county board meeting.
“The last two years, we have not had a property tax increase and in fact there has been a small cut,” Johnson said. “This year we are making up for that.”
The 2013 county budget is $1.78 billion, which is a 2.85 percent increase from 2012. The property tax levy increased .93 percent.
The rail authority budget is $26.6 million and the property tax levy is $21 million, $3 million more than 2012. Those funds are to improve rail transportation and mobility and reduce traffic congestion, according to a Hennepin County news release.
The smallest of the budgets, for the Housing and Redevelopment Authority, is $14.7 million. It has a property tax levy of $6.4 million, which is $820,000 more than 2012, according to the release.
Lawless said that the three increases combined still only yield a 1.5 percent property tax increase.
Two years ago, Lawless said, the board voted to reduce the property tax levy by more than $6 million and last year it was about $1 million. “This year it is going up by $6.2 million … still less than 1 percent,” he said.
Expenses that impact the property tax levy include spending for the sheriff’s office, community corrections and the county attorney, Lawless said.
The general county budget increase includes $12 million more for the Metropolitan Health Plan, which provides health care for public programs, Medicaid and state programs. “That is attributed to assumptions we have on growth and enrollment,” Lawless said.
Additionally, the county’s debt service payments are increasing by about $26 million and the cost for uncompensated health care is $4 million, he said.
There is a decrease in the Capital Improvements Budget of about $4 million.
The Capital Improvements Budget is $180 million.
Other funds are:
• General government, $329 million
• Health, $347 million
• Libraries, $70 million
• Human Services, $447 million
• Public Safety, $257 million
• Public Works, $122 million
The majority of the board said Dec. 11 that they felt the budget is reasonable.
“I think this is a responsible budget for us moving forward into 2013,” said Third District Commissioner Gail Dorfman. “I am concerned about the human services budget,” she said. “I am glad we’re seeing a little increase in that area.”
The human services budget supports low-income people including seniors, children and adults at risk of abuse and veterans.
One uncertainty in the overall county budget is funding from the federal and state level.
State funding is approximately 10 percent of the county budget, and federal funding is approximately 9 percent.
“We went through eight years where the governor and the legislature were shifting financial responsibilities onto us to balance the state budget,” said Fourth District Commissioner Peter McLaughlin.
He said he expects financial uncertainties to continue in 2013.
“I think this is a very reasonable response to the conditions we’re going to have in 2013,” McLaughlin said.