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World War I-era tax rate proposed for Washington County budget

By Melanie Boyung

Special to Conley Media

WASHINGTON COUNTY — The county tax rate is set to drop to its lowest levels since 1917.

In October, the Washington County Executive Committee gave unanimous approval to the 2020 budget proposal for Washington County. That committee’s approval moves the budget forward to the full County Board, which is expected to take it up this month.

The 2020 recommended budget has a $2.298 tax rate; the rate for 2019 was $2.393, 9.48 cents higher than the current proposal, according to county budget documents. That $2.298 tax rate is the lowest in more than a hundred years — County Administrator Josh Schoemann wrote in the budget book that it is the lowest since World War I.

While the tax rate is comparable to a hundred years ago, that does not mean tax bills will be the same. The tax rate is the amount paid by a property owner per $1,000 of property value, and property valuation has risen a great deal in the past century. Owners of a $225,000 home would therefore owe $517.10 for the county share of their tax bill, under the 2020 budget recommendation.

“The tax rate reduction results in a $21.33 county tax bill drop for a $225,000 home,” said Ethan Hollenberger, Washington County public affairs coordinator, in an email.

According to the Washington County 2020 budget book, the total tax levy is planned at $38.061 million. State laws impose limits on much tax money local governments may levy, with the main adjustment being that each year the levy may increase proportionate to the net amount of new construction value the municipality has gained in the previous year.

Washington County’s levy, if the budget passes at County Board as proposed, will increase by 2.05% over the 2019 levy, or $765,214. The tax rate would drop, even though the levy rose, because the county’s total value that the levy is divided amongst increased by a greater margin, 6.36%. With the county’s value growth outpacing the levy growth, the rate needed to support the levy drops.

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County taxes are charged based on equalized values as determined by the state — not the assessed values set by local towns, villages and cities.

The budget proposal includes a new compensation system for county employees, presented by Schoemann to the County Board this fall. Staffing will also decrease, by 11.2 fulltime equivalence. Schoemann said during a compensation discussion earlier this season that the county has been eliminating positions as people retire or resign, where the work can be absorbed elsewhere.

The budget as presented fully funds the 2050 Transportation Sustainability Plan to adequately maintain all county roads — Hollenberger noted it is the only fully funded transportation plan of its kind in the state — and continues the county Park Fiscal Sustainability Plan, which funds parks outside the tax levy.

“This freed up money is allowing the county to fund the drug court and other public safety needs,” Hollenberger said.

He also noted that the 2020 budget recommendation invests an additional $710,000 into the Washington County Sheriff’s Office for public safety.

“The budget continues our excellent progress toward fiscal health and financial sustainability for the posterity of Washington County,” Schoemann wrote in the budget book.

The 2020 budget is scheduled to come before the County Board for approval Wednesday, Nov. 13 at the County Board’s regular meeting. The meeting begins at 6 p.m.

The Washington County 2020 budget book is available online for viewing through the county website, at https://bit.ly/2JFCoON.

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