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County Board comes up with lowest tax rate in 30 years

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By tapping fund balances and taking advantage of property taxes generated by new construction, the St. Croix County Board was able last Thursday to adopt its lowest mill rate in over 30 years.

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The county property tax will be $3.25 per $1,000 of property value. The tax rate approved by the County Board last year was $3.49 per $1,000, but an error in calculation resulted in an actual rate of $3.58.

The over-levy was discovered early and set aside to be applied to the 2005 budget, according to county administrators.

The 2005 general property tax levy will be $20.9 million, which is about $760,000 above last year's levy. The county also expects to receive about $581,000 more from the county sales tax and about $2.3 million more in charges for services. The budget calls for using about $220,000 in account balances to offset the property tax levy.

Total county expenses are budgeted at $81 million, about 9.6% higher than this year.

During the Oct. 28 County Board meeting, Finance Committee Chairman Ralph Swenson pointed out the challenges his committee faced in developing the budget:

  • In 2005 the county will make its first-year debt payment on the jail strip search class action lawsuit. The county borrowed to pay its $2.5 million share of the settlement. The 2005 payment on that debt is $386,000.

  • Follow-up studies recommended additional supervision for both jailers and patrol deputies.

  • Mandated services, more clients and increased costs mean the Health and Human Services Department will need a levy increase of $1.6 million, a 21.6% jump over 2004.

    Swenson said the higher costs are due mainly to more services provided by the mental health, long-term support and family and children units.

    The county will save money on employee health insurance by changing its re-insurance company and by applying about $630,000 in group fund balances to 2005 insurance costs, said Swenson.

    The County Board approved addition of these positions:

  • Telecommunicator in Emergency Communications Department; cost of $58,674; funded by tax levy.

  • Two new corrections officers in jail; cost of $138,447; funded by tax levy.

  • Two new patrol deputies; cost of $159,095; funded by tax levy.

  • Three officers will be promoted to sergeant to provide extra supervision; total 2005 cost of $20,291; funded by county levy.

  • Health educator in Public Health unit of Health and Human Services; cost of $66,786; funded by fees and grants.

  • Advanced nurse practitioner in Mental Health unit of Health and Human Services; cost of $97,650; funded by fees.

  • Social worker in Coordinated Family Services unit of Health and Human Services; cost of $75,777; funded by grants.

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