The Washington County Board of Commissioners continued to review the county’s 2020 budget at workshops Aug. 27.

The board received its first overview of the county’s 2020 budget at a workshop Aug. 13.

The board will review the budget through September, with individual departments presenting more detailed recommended budgets at workshops. A public hearing on the budget will be the evening of Dec. 3, before the final budget is adopted Dec. 10.

The recommended budget reflects the continued population growth in the county, which is now the third fastest growing county in the state, growing at an annual rate of 1.8 percent. Increased population requires additional road improvements, increased county services, and buildings in which to house those services. More people place demands on recreational opportunities in county parks, and services at county libraries.

The property tax levy, which will be set Sept. 24, is recommended to increase by 5.94 percent, which would translate into a 2.3 percent decrease in the county’s tax rate. This would be the sixth time in the last seven years that the county tax rate would fall. Once the County Board sets the levy, it may lower it, but it cannot raise it in the final budget.

Should the recommended levy be approved, the impact on the owner of the median-valued home in the county, which is $295,200, would be an increase of $37 a year in county taxes.

The County Board reviewed budgets for the Department of Public Health and Environment, which includes the county’s contribution to the University of Minnesota Extension Service programs in the county, and the Department of Community Services Aug. 27.

The Department of Health and Environment works in six key priority areas:

• access to care;

• access to health, which refers to the social and environmental conditions that directly and indirectly affect people’s health, such as housing, income, employment, and education, etc.;

• environmental conditions that promote and protect health;

• mental health and well-being;

• nutrition and physical activity; and

•  substance abuse.

The department’s recommended budget is $17.5 million, to support almost 90 employees. Almost half of the department’s income is from the County Environmental Charge, which is the tax residents pay on garbage collection. Just more than a quarter of the income for the department is from federal and state grants, and the rest is from the property tax levy, licensing fees, and fees for other services.

More than half of the department’s expenditures is on environmental programs, such as supporting the Environmental Center in Woodbury. Healthy Communities programs account for almost a quarter of the budget, with health services, fighting infectious disease, infrastructure, and emergency preparedness accounting for the remainder of the budget.

The department’s capital requests include:

• Environmental Center expansion design;

• land purchase for a northern environmental center;

• land purchase for a northern yard waste collection site; and

• land search for central yard waste collection site

All 2020 capital requests are funded by the County Environmental Charge revenue.

The Washington County Extension’s local presence includes:

• 4-H Youth Development, which employs 2.5 staff positions as 4-H program coordinators;

•  Extension Master Gardeners, which is volunteer led; and

• administrative office support, which is just less than a full-time position.

The organization’s recommended budget for 2020 is $203,140 to support the staff positions, and has a requested increase of $15,440 over the 2019 budget to fund more of the administrative staff position.

The county has 621 enrolled 4-H members, and the county was represented by 144 4-H members at the state fair. 4-H also has a Youth Teaching Youth program that had 1,050 elementary school-age participants last year, with 34 teen teachers. Washington County has 143 Extension Master Gardeners volunteers, who contributed 13,022 hours in 2018, focusing on clean water, local food, pollinators, and connecting people with nature.

Critical issues facing the Community Services Department in 2020 will be child protection screening, and providing round-the-clock crisis response for child protection and mental health crisis, as well as the unsheltered homeless. The department is also requesting additional resources for transportation and economic assistance programs.

The department has a staff of more than 350, with a recommended budget for 2020 of $51 million. Almost 40 percent is used for social services for adults and people with disabilities, and a quarter is used for social services for children. About a quarter is used to manage economic support programs.

Just more than 40 percent of the department’s revenue is from the county’s property tax levy, with one-third coming from the federal government and one-fifth coming from the state government.

The county’s human services costs per capita of $1,429 remains second lowest among the metropolitan area’s seven counties, and remains well below the state average. Its administrative costs per capita remain the lowest of all metropolitan counties, and below the state average.


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