The St. Louis County Board gave initial approval for the 2022 maximum property tax levy Tuesday in Duluth, delivering a proposed levy 5.94% higher than 2021, but one with a lighter-than-that impact on property owners.

Factoring in the 4.25% growth in the property tax base, St. Louis County property owners can expect to see an average increase of 1.69% on the county portion of their property tax bill — equivalent to $18 on a home valued at $200,000.

"When there are more property tax payers to help support the government services we are delivering, it lessens the impacts to all taxpayers," County Administrator Kevin Gray said.

Commissioner Patrick Boyle, representing eastern Duluth, compared the increase to his family's coffee habits.

"This is less impact than special coffee drinks," he said.

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The county levy equates to $156.5 million of an anticipated $440 million budget in 2022. In 2021, the county portion of the property tax levy raised $147.7 million on a $407 million budget.

"Considering we are still dealing with a pandemic and must remain prepared for the unexpected, I am proud of this board and of staff for getting the levy amount to this level," said Commissioner Keith Nelson, who chairs the board's finance committee. "These are extraordinarily challenging times, and this levy strikes a balance of supporting the services our citizens need, while keeping the tax impact as minimal as possible."

Keith Nelson
Keith Nelson

School district and city levies are separate from the county's, and are announced by each jurisdictional entity. Duluth Public Schools is scheduled to set its maximum levy in October. The city of Duluth is expected to do so soon.

As part of the growing budget, multiple St. Louis County commissioners noted the importance of maintaining a high standard when it comes to negotiating compensation and benefits for county workers. They spoke about other priorities, too, including the board's continuing focus on providing mental health and chemical dependency outlets for residents in need.

"It's imperative we give our residents the access to what they need regarding mental health and chemical (dependency)," Commissioner Paul McDonald, of Ely, said.

A county news release Tuesday said the proposed 2022 levy "makes critical investments in public works to ensure reliable fleet equipment and upgraded, sustainable facilities."

As the board and staff work to finalize the 2022 budget over the next few months, the levy amount may be reduced, but it cannot increase. Illustrative of the flexibility still available to commissioners after the levy is set next week, Commissioner Ashley Grimm said she'd like county administration to consider if any of the county's $54 million in American Rescue Plan funding could be used to augment public works needs.

"To see if we could reduce cost on the levy even more," Grimm said, joining other commissioners in being appreciative of the budget and levy work done so far.

The 2022 budget also reflects investments in planning, zoning, and economic development initiatives, the county noted. Nelson said the county has seen more than 1,200 septic applications in 2021 led by a wave of cabin owners outfitting their properties for permanent residency.

It's a trend that figures to have a positive impact on tax rolls for the way those properties will be reclassified as primary residences.

"I'm looking forward to seeing how those numbers shape our taxes as the years go on," Nelson said.

The vote to advance the levy was unanimous as part of the committee of the whole meeting. The final vote to set the levy will take place Sept. 14 at the board's meeting in Virginia.

Minnesota counties are required by law to set their maximum property tax levy the portion of the budget collected through property taxes by the end of September.

Commissioners will vote on the final capital and operating budget Dec. 14.

Two meetings to collect public input on the levy and budget, one north and one south, are scheduled for separate Mondays:

  • Nov. 22, at the St. Louis County Courthouse in Virginia.
  • Nov. 29, at the Government Services Center in Duluth.

Both meetings start at 7 p.m. Residents also may provide input at any County Board meeting, or by contacting commissioners directly, the county said.