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St. Louis County commissioners to set tax-hike maximum

St. Louis County commissioners plan to meet today to set the high mark for property taxes to rise in 2010. County Administrator Kevin Gray said he will present a levy maximum of 1.3 percent for the board to act on, a move that would raise taxes a...

County Board
Members of the St. Louis County Board

St. Louis County commissioners plan to meet today to set the high mark for property taxes to rise in 2010.

County Administrator Kevin Gray said he will present a levy maximum of 1.3 percent for the board to act on, a move that would raise taxes across the county by about $1.3 million to make up for money lost from state aid cuts and reduced taconite tax revenue with most mines idle for months this year.

The county determines only part of each tax bill, with cities, townships, school districts and special taxing authorities also adding to the mix. The state Legislature has set a cap on how high taxes can increase, called a levy limit, at 2.33 percent for the county.

"It took some aggressive budgeting to get it down to this. But it's noteworthy that we're a full percentage point below'' the state-imposed limit, Gray said.

The impact on individual home and business owners will vary based on valuations and any new construction in the county, but it's likely next year's tax bill will go up a little.

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The county board is under a state-mandated deadline to set the uppermost percentage that the county's share of property taxes will increase next year. The state wants the highest possible number when it notifies property owners in the upcoming Truth in Taxation statements. That number can come down by the time the final budget and levy are set in December, but it can't go up.

County departments generally budgeted for a 3 percent across-the-board cut for 2010. The county has avoided deeper cuts in other departments by cutting the Chris Jensen nursing home as a county entity for 2010, a move expected to save more than $1 million. The county also cut its assisted living program earlier this summer but has managed to avoid large-scale layoffs in other departments despite significant cuts in state aid and state funding for programs that the county administers.

Commissioner Steve O'Neill suggested setting a higher maximum in case more state cuts surface at the last moment, noting the number can come down over the next three months. But Commissioner Chris Dahlberg said the increase should be kept to the lowest possible level as taxpayers.

"Times are tough for people. I think we really should have shot for a zero percent increase,'' Dahlberg said. "But we probably couldn't get there without severing our arm as far as deep cuts... that really would have been painful.''

John Myers reports on the outdoors, natural resources and the environment for the Duluth News Tribune. You can reach him at jmyers@duluthnews.com.
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