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St. Louis County will hike levy 4.45 percent for 2018

St. Louis County's share of the property tax levy would go up 4.45 percent in 2018 under a proposal advanced Tuesday by the county board in Duluth.

The board is expected to approve the preliminary 4.45 percent increase Sept. 26 but the levy won't become final until December. The board could lower the levy at a Dec. 19 levy meeting meeting but wouldn't be able to raise it above 4.45 percent.

County officials were quick to point out that the average home and business owner wouldn't pay 4.45 percent more in 2018 for the county's share of the property tax bill. Growth in new development and in the value of property helped add to the county's tax base this year and will absorb most of the levy hike.

The result will be an actual increase of about a half-percent in next year's property tax bills, county officials said. The owner of a $100,000 home would pay 56 cents more in 2018 than 2017 while the owner of a $200,000 home would pay about $1.12 more.

Of course that's just for the county's share of the tax bill and doesn't include any increase by your city, township or school district. All of those tax levies will be set in coming weeks.

The county's levy spending will hit $132.2 million next year, up from $126.6 million this year. That's the portion of the county's budget that's paid for by property taxes from homes, apartment buildings, cabins, private land and businesses. The overall budget for all county departments, much of it state and federal money, will approach $400 million for 2018.

The county approved an 8.5 percent property tax levy hike for 2017 after no increase in 2016.

The extra county money is in part going to higher wages for employees — most county workers got a negotiated 2.5 percent pay hike for 2018. And the county has been adding workers, in large part to keep up with increased demand for state-mandated services like child protection. The total number of full-time equivalent positions hit 1,825.45 this year, up from 1,779.45 in 2016 and 1,697.40 in 2011. Health care costs also are up considerably for all those county employees.

Extra money also is going to fight the ongoing epidemic of drug abuse and and mental health issues. That includes supporting innovative opioid treatment programs and partnerships, expanding Mental Health Court across the county, and the embedded social worker within the Duluth Police Department.

The county also is making additional investments to support families providing foster care, of which there has been a critical shortage across the region, and offset state funding cuts impacting vulnerable adults.

The 4.45 percent is down from an estimated 6.54 percent suggested in July during preliminary budget talks.

The public can ask questions and give comments on the levy (not necessarily on specific property tax bills) at meetings set for Nov. 30 at the county courthouse in Virginia and Dec. 7 at the courthouse in Duluth, both at 7 p.m. More information is available at stlouiscountymn.gov/countyboard.

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