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St. Louis County approves preliminary levy

WUORI — The St. Louis County Board is one step closer toward finalizing its 2019 budget after approving its preliminary maximum property tax levy Tuesday.

The board unanimously approved a 3.45 percent increase to its 2019 maximum levy during its meeting in Wuori Township on Tuesday. However, county Administrator Kevin Gray noted residents will see an estimated decrease of 0.55 percent on their county taxes due to the county’s tax base growing this year.

The impact would be an average decrease in $2.48 in county taxes on a home valued at $50,000, an average decrease of $4.96 for a home valued at $100,000, an average decrease of $7.45 for a home valued at $150,000 and an average decrease of $9.93 for a home valued at $200,000, according to the county.

Gray clarified that those numbers are averages and not all residents could see a decrease on their taxes due to other factors.

“We have a very complex property tax system, there’s just no other way to say it. It’s especially complicated in St. Louis County because we’re unique in that we have taconite … so there are different taxes that flow through those in the taconite district and it makes for a much more challenging environment,” Gray said.

Residents can learn more about the county’s proposed 2019 budget at public meetings scheduled for 7 p.m. Nov. 29 at the St. Louis County Courthouse in Virginia and at 7 p.m. Dec. 6 at the St. Louis County Courthouse in Duluth.

The county’s 2019 budget, which is expected to total more than $400 million, is scheduled to be adopted by the county board at its Dec. 18 meeting. The budget will reflect the county’s focus on funding human services, Gray said.

“We continue to be challenged with the costs of child protection and out-of-home placements. This board directs and we continue to make investments to support our foster care families to provide that child with protective services, to ensure that staffing is in place … but nonetheless, it’s a an ongoing cost challenge for this county,” Gray said. “We continue targeted investments in substance and mental health, working with our stakeholder communities, the hospitals … and we continue to target investments to try and address the challenge that’s not unique to St. Louis County on the substance abuse front and the opioid crisis.”

The property tax levy will account for $136.7 million of the budget’s revenue. Of that amount, 34 percent will fund public health and human services, 31 percent will fund public safety, 17 percent will fund public works, 13 percent will cover general government costs and 5 percent will go toward debt service, according to the county.

St. Louis County’s tax base grew by about 4 percent this year due to a combination of increased home valuations and new construction, Gray said. St. Louis County’s 4 percent change is mid-range compared to counties statewide. Counties in the Twin Cities suburbs had a 5-7 percent growth in their tax bases this year while some rural counties in Minnesota experienced decreases in their tax bases, he said.

The county board also approved in a 5-2 vote the 2019 maximum unorganized township road levy of $1.5 million, which is unchanged from 2018. Commissioners Frank Jewell and Tom Rukavina opposed the road levy because they said they believe it’s unfair for unorganized township residents to pay a separate tax for road maintenance. Commissioner Keith Nelson responded that unorganized townships are the beneficiaries of the county’s effort via the levy to maintain a road system that was long neglected.

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