From Washington County:
The Washington County Board of Commissioners continued reviewing the county’s proposed 2014 budget Aug. 27.
The board began its review Aug. 6, with a budget overview. The proposed budget includes a proposed tax levy that will result in the owner of a home valued at $207,000 – one that increased in value by 2.4 percent from last year, the countywide average for residential property – seeing a decrease of $4 in the county’s portion of the property tax paid in 2014.
The recommended budget has a property tax levy of $86.7 million, a .66 percent increase from 2013. With the .66 percent increase, on average, property owners should see a reduced county tax as the county tax rate is projected to decrease.
The levy is part of an overall $147.4 million county operating budget for 2014, and a $23.1 million capital expenditures budget. If approved, the levy increase would be the first county property tax levy increase in four years, after the levy was reduced in 2012 and remained flat in 2011 and 2013. The levy increase is less than the 1.2 percent increase allowed under state law.
The County Board will review budget details from each department before setting a preliminary levy Sept. 10. The final budget and levy will be adopted in December. Residents are invited to comment or ask questions on the proposals at any time during the review.
At their Aug. 27 meeting, board members continued to review budgets from individual departments. Tuesday’s review included budgets from Community Services, Public Health and Environment, and the Minnesota Extension Service.
Community Services has a proposed budget of $39.2 million in revenue, almost half coming from the county tax levy, about a third from federal sources, about 15 percent from state sources, and the rest from other revenue sources. Expenditures fall into six major categories:
- social services (child care assistance, child support, food support, medical assistance, Minnesota Family Investment Program, housing), 40 percent, or $15.7 million;
- economic assistance, 27 percent, or $10.8 million;
- mental and chemical health (assessment, therapy, psychiatry, case management, medication management, housing, crisis services), 19 percent, or $7.49 million;
- Workforce Center (employment counseling, resource rooms, senior and youth programs, job search workshops, unemployment insurance), 7 percent, or $2.8 million;
- administrative costs, 5 percent, or $2 million; and
- veterans services (assisting veterans and their families with access to state and federal benefits), just less than a half percent, at $186,000.
Health care cases, which have grown steadily throughout the recession, have now stabilized at about 9,400, as opposed to 6,700 at the beginning of the recession. It is expected that cases will increase by another 2,600 as a result of the implementation of the federal Affordable Care Act, and current cases will be converted to follow the rules in the new system. Nine staff positions were added in 2013 to accommodate those changes. Also, the Legislature mandated a new assessment process for determining how persons with disabilities and older residents receive services. The assessment, MnCHOICES, will greatly increase the number of hours required to do the 3,500 assessments required each year, and the department will add 10.5 staff positions to comply with the new rules.
Another major initiative in the department in 2014 will include a move to a new electronic document system.
The Public Health and Environment Department has on its 2014 agenda adopting a Community Health Improvement Plan, and a Groundwater Plan. It will also implement a solid waste master plan, and evaluate the County Environmental Charge.
The department is proposing a $13.4 million budget for 2014, an increase of 4 percent from 2013. Of that revenue, 10 percent is received from the county tax levy, with 47 percent received from the County Environmental Charge, a fee assessed on garbage collection bills. Additional funds are from federal and state grants, and fees for services and licensing.
Programs that protect the environment will receive 60 percent of the expenditures, with healthy community programs receiving 17 percent of expenditures, and 9 percent expenditures going to health services. The rest of the budget is directed to programs that fight infectious disease, infrastructure and emergency preparedness.
The department is seeing an increase in family health home visits, and an increase in jail medical services and costs. The expansion of Medical Assistance, through the Affordable Care Act, is expected to provide more people with health care coverage, and may impact the services the department provides. Also, as the housing market improves, there will be more septic systems that will require replacement and inspection.
The department may participate in the Statewide Health Improvement Program in the coming year, and it will be involved in setting policy direction for the future of the County Environmental Charge and the Resource Recovery Facility, which is where solid waste is processed into fuel for power plants.The Washington County Extension budget was also reviewed, which includes money for a 4-H coordinator, and a Youth Teaching Youth program coordinator. The budget calls for a 1.5 percent increase from last year, for a total of $286,509. The Extension office is asking that Washington County contribute $159,200 of that, including money from the county levy, and in-kind office operations expenditures. The remainder of the funds is from grants, fundraising and dues.