A preliminary 2023 property tax levy approved by the Anoka County Board Sept. 27 is unchanged from 2022 as well as 2021.
The $141,927,676 certified levy cannot be increased, but it can be cut before the board acts on the final levy and 2023 budget at its Friday, Dec. 2 meeting following a public hearing at 6 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 1.
Commissioner Scott Schulte, county board chairman, said the board had three work sessions to discuss the levy and budget and at the first, staff presented five different levy options ranging from a zero to a 5% increase.
Once the board reached consensus to have a flat levy, it had to decide how to fill an expenditure gap in the budget, Schulte said in a follow-up interview. The decision was to tap into the county’s asset preservation fund to the tune of $12 million.
This fund uses already collected tax dollars that are left after the county has set aside a mandated 38% of its reserves for cash flow and emergencies, Cory Kampf, chief finance officer, said.
As part of the 2023 budget and beyond, the county is implementing a pay plan for non-union employees who are paid less than their counterparts in metro area counties and cities as well as the private sector, Schulte said. The pay discrepancies were found in a wage study performed for the county by an outside consultant.
“This has impacted the ability of the county to hire and retain employees and affects roughly half the workforce,” Schulte said.
Under the plan, these employee salaries will increase to mid-point compared with others in their pay sector over two years, but the cost will be spread out over a three-year budget cycle.
The county had already taken steps to address pay inequities for staff in the county attorney’s office and 911 dispatchers in Central Communications, as well as deputies and supervisors in the sheriff’s department through a union agreement earlier this year, Schulte said.
The board voted 6-1 to approve the levy with Commissioner Mandy Meisner opposed. She proposed a 2.5% increase, but failed to get a second to her motion.
Meisner, in a response to email questions, said that the levy supports ongoing operational expenses, primarily staff wages and benefits.
“My motion to raise our levy 2.5% was to have space to fast track our employee wage corrections,” Meisner wrote. “Our staff wages are far behind and it has hindered both keeping and attracting talent to the point of crisis in several areas.”
Inflation, which has hit the county hard in 2022 in areas such as fuel and utility costs, was talked about a lot at the work sessions and it has put pressure on the 2023 levy and budget, but the hope is that inflation eases in 2023, Schulte said in the interview.
At the board meeting, Commissioner Mike Gamache thanked staff for their hard work, which made it easier for the board to get to a flat levy even with funding for salary increases.
“We have come to a good conclusion,” Schulte said.
A lot of people are having tough times right now and the last thing they need is a tax levy increase, Commissioner Matt Look said.
“This is a responsible levy, but we may not always be able to do it,” Look said.
The board also approved a preliminary public safety levy of $1.75 million, which has been unchanged for several years.
It appears as a line item on property tax statements under a special state law that allows the county to levy property taxes for public safety improvement and equipment plus finance the cost of designing, constructing and acquiring county-wide projects benefiting the county and its municipalities.
Kampf said the 2023 levy was earmarked for an ongoing project to upgrade the 800-megahertz system radio towers, “refresh” public safety information technology equipment and continue paying back the county for the public safety data system project costs. The state law sunsets at the end of 2023, so the county will have to seek legislative approval at the next session if it wants to extend the levy.