Posts Tagged ‘budget’

$90K for Bike Kiosks

Written by Jeff Johnson on December 18th, 2012. Posted in General

I’ve got a bike, you can ride it if you like…

I’ve got a bike.
You can ride it if you like.
It’s got a basket,
A bell that rings,
And things to make it look good.
I’d give it to you if I could
But I borrowed it.

– BIKE, by Pink Floyd

I’m a bit late with this post, but I thought it a good way to close out 2012.  A couple weeks ago, the board voted  to contribute $90,000 to the purchase and installation of bicycle-sharing kiosks in Minneapolis.  The expenditure passed on a vote of 6 – 1.  I was the “no” vote.

County Tax Levies to Increase 1.5% Next Year

Written by Jeff Johnson on December 13th, 2012. Posted in General

Board Passes 2013 Budgets with Levy Increases

The Board met for the final time this year to pass our budgets for Hennepin County, the county’s Regional Rail Authority and the county’s Housing and Redevelopment Authority.  Each of these three entities has its own county-wide levy, which the county board sets each year at the same time as the budget.  All three budgets passed this year on votes of 6 – 1 (with me voting “no”).

The general levy, which funds most county operations was just over $668 million for 2012 and will increase by about $6.2 million in 2013 (just under 1%).  The rail levy was $18 million in 2012 and will increase by $3 million in 2013 (just under 17%).  The housing levy was just over $5.6 million in 2012 and will increase by about $820,000 in 2013 (about 14.6%).

Overall, we increased the county tax levies by a total of 1.52% for 2013 (or about $10.5 million).

I did not support any of the three budgets or accompanying tax increases.  As I pointed out to my colleagues (and have pointed out in previous blog posts) taxpayers in Hennepin County are still in a very tough place and are hurting financially.  Unfortunately, our response as a board seems to always be: If our constituents are struggling, we need to spend more to help them.

There is a better response: If our constituents are struggling, let’s agree to not take even more of their hard-earned money and instead attempt to spend what we already have more wisely.

Board Sets Maximum Levy Increase for 2013

Written by Jeff Johnson on September 17th, 2012. Posted in General

Board votes to limit levy increase to 1.52% next year

Last week the county board set the maximum level at which we can levy property taxes on our constituents in 2013.  Once that level is set, we cannot later decide to tax more, although we could choose to tax at a lower level when we pass our final budget in December.  In the past, the final levy amounts have usually been very close to the maximum levels we have set.

Hennepin County has three tax levies.  The largest – by far – is the general levy, which is currently set at just over $668 million.  The rail levy is currently set at $18 million.  The housing levy is currently set at $5.61 million.

When we met last week, county administration proposed that we set maximum levy increases at 1.3% for the general levy, 16.67% for the rail levy and 23.5% for the housing levy.  All told, that would have been an overall maximum levy increase of 1.9%.

When we considered the general levy, Commissioner Opat offered an amendment to cut the maximum increase from 1.3% to 1.0% which passed unanimously.  My proposal to limit the max levy to a 0% increase failed on a vote of 2 – 4 (with Commissioner Randy Johnson and I supporting the 0% option).  The final vote on the 1% maximum levy increase was also 4 -2 (with Randy Johnson and I voting “no”).

The 16.67% maximum rail levy increase passed on a vote of 5 – 1 (I was the “no” vote).  The board unanimously supported Commissioner Callison’s motion to decrease the maximum housing levy increase to 14.6%.  The final vote on that maximum increase was also 5 -1 (I was the “no” vote).

Overall, we set a total maximum levy increase for 2013 at 1.52% (or $10.5 million).

I did not support any of the maximum levy increases.  As I pointed out to my colleagues, taxpayers in Hennepin County (and throughout the country) are still struggling mightily.  Unfortunately, the common response to that fact is: “We need to spend more money to help those struggling taxpayers.”

Golden Hydrant Goes to $79 Million Interchange Project

Written by Jeff Johnson on June 29th, 2012. Posted in Golden Hydrant

“Signature” project and “iconic” public space = Bad news for taxpayers

This week, the county board voted to move forward with the $79.3 million Interchange project in Minneapolis – advancing an additional $22 million in property taxes to the project (on top of the $10.8 that HennCo property taxpayers have already spent), along with another $6.3 million from the county’s Solid Waste Enterprise Fund (fees assessed on property owners’  waste hauling bills) which, while not a property tax, is still taxpayer money.  I was the only “no” vote.  In my frustrated mind, this project deserves something even more special than a Golden Fire Hydrant – but I don’t have a platinum-plated or diamond-encrusted version of the Hydrant, so we’ll stick with the original.

This project is particularly frustrating to me because: 1. We are clearly spending much more than necessary on the project; 2. The cost skyrocketed over 30% overnight just a few weeks ago; and 3. County taxpayers are going to end up paying a much larger percentage of the overall cost than we originally promised.  AND, most importantly, we could see all of these things coming for at least the past year and just kept moving full speed ahead.

The Interchange (which has its own website and county staff) “will serve as a unique, multi-modal transportation hub and community gathering space in downtown Minneapolis.”  Here’s what it will look like:

County Debt Piling Up

Written by Jeff Johnson on June 25th, 2012. Posted in General

Last week, the Board met for a briefing on the general fiscal situation in the county and to discuss county debt and the expected trend going forward.  With respect to our debt load, the picture is concerning, to say the least.

Below is a graph of the county’s debt service levy since 2007 and as projected through 2016 (measured in millions).  The red line represents debt issued by the County Board; the black line represents the debt issued by the County Board combined with the debt issued by the Hennepin County Regional Rail Authority.  The County Board and the Rail Authority are separate legal entities but are made up of the same seven members. 

Hennepin’s Truth in Taxation Meeting

Written by Jeff Johnson on November 27th, 2011. Posted in General

Public Welcome at Hearing this coming Tuesday

The County Board will hold its annual Truth in Taxation hearing on the proposed 2012 budget and property tax levy at 6 p.m., Tuesday, Nov. 29, at the Hennepin County Government Center.

The Board is scheduled to vote on the proposed budget at our regularly scheduled board meeting on December 12.  That budget contains a small decrease in actual spending (as was the case each of the past two years) and no increase in the property tax levy amount.

Despite this, many county taxpayers noted that the property tax notices they received last week indicated property tax increases for Hennepin County and other local taxing authorities.  For example, the taxable market value for my home dropped just under 1%, but my property taxes are estimated to increase 6.8%.  Specifically, my county tax will increase 7%, the City of Plymouth portion will increase 5.9%, the Wayzata School District amount will increase 7%, the Met Council tax will increase 6% and “other special taxing districts”  will increase 8.6%.

I am hearing about similar increases from many of my constituents.

There are several reasons one’s county property tax amount can increase even if the actual total tax amount collected by the county remains the same.  If, for example, my valuation drops less than the average valuation drops, I will likely see a tax increase while some of my neighbors whose valuation dropped at a greater rate might see a smaller increase or a decrease in taxes.  The state legislature and the Governor can also agree to changes in state law that might lead to a property tax increase for some, as we are likely to see next year when some owners of higher-valued homes and commercial real estate pay extra to make up for changes to the market value homestead credit to benefit owners of some lower-valued homes.

Regardless of the reasons or whose “fault” it is, however, many property owners in Hennepin County are likely to see property tax increases based on the proposed budget that will be discussed at the Truth in Taxation hearing this week.  My intent again this year is to offer an amendment to our budget to cut the property tax levy by an amount that would hold the “average” homeowner in Hennepin County harmless from a county tax increase.  While we have not determined the exact amount of that cut yet, it is likely somewhere between a 2% and 3% levy reduction.

The hearing will be held in the County Board Room on the 24th Floor of the Hennepin County Government Center, 300 S. Sixth St., Minneapolis.

Free parking is provided for residents testifying at this hearing who park in the Government Center’s underground ramp after 4:30 p.m. The ramp entrance is on 3rd Avenue between 5th and 6th streets.

Board Sets Maximum Levies

Written by Jeff Johnson on September 21st, 2011. Posted in General

Overall, not a bad day for HC taxpayers – but there’s still work to do…

Last week, the County Board set our “maximum levy” amounts for 2012.  State law requires every local government unit to set the maximum amount it will levy for the upcoming year in early September.  Once the maximum levy amount is set, the local government can still choose to levy less when it sets its final budget (usually in December), but it cannot choose to levy more.

Hennepin County has three separate levies – the general levy, the railroad authority levy and the housing authority levy.  In 2011, the general levy was set at just under $650 million.  The railroad levy was $18 million.  The housing levy was just over $5.6 million.

Last week, the Board voted 5 – 1 (Gail Dorfman was absent and I voted no) to set the maximum general levy at an amount representing a 1% increase.  I moved to set the max at the same level as last year, but was voted down 2 – 4 (with Randy Johnson joining me in voting “yes”).  Keep in mind that the 1% increase (approximately an extra $6.5 million in tax revenue) is the maximum and the Board could decide to hold the levy flat – or even cut it – when we set our final budget.

The original proposal from the County Administrator was to set the maximum 2012 railroad levy at $21 million – just over a 17% increase from 2011.  Commissioner Jan Callison successfully moved to cut that increase in half.  I then moved to hold the maximum levy at $18 million (a 0% increase).  That motion also passed on a vote of 4 – 2 (with Randy Johnson, Mike Opat and Mark Stenglein joining me).

The Board unanimously set the maximum housing levy at a 0% increase as proposed by the county administrator.

My goal in our final budget discussions will be to cut the levies by an amount that would hold the “average” Hennepin County homeowner harmless from a higher county property tax bill.

One Can Never Have Enough Trains

Written by Jeff Johnson on September 20th, 2011. Posted in General

County Saves Money; Board Spends It

Last week, the Hennepin County Board (sitting as the Hennepin County Regional Railroad Authority) voted 5 – 1 to authorize $34 million from “contingency funds” to buy 16 additional rail cars for the Central Corridor light rail line (CCLRT) between Minneapolis and St. Paul.  I voted “no” (Gail Dorfman was absent).

The CCLRT is estimated to cost just under $1 billion to build.  Part of that budget includes $144 million for contingencies – cost overruns, change orders, unforeseen construction problems that frequently arise in huge capital projects.

Because of a favorable bidding environment, bids for parts of the CCLRT project to date have come in $34 million under project estimates.

Good news, right?  Finally, a government project that actually comes in under budget and costs the taxpayers just a little bit less than originally planned (even if that project itself is a boondoggle that couldn’t survive any rational person’s cost-benefit analysis).

So what do we do?  Return the $34 million to the original funding entities, including Hennepin County, to provide some small relief to the taxpayers?

Nope.  Instead we use the opportunity to buy more light rail cars, which according to the original proposal and ridership estimates, we will not need unless ridership is higher than anticipated.

Board Defeats New Wheelage Tax

Written by Jeff Johnson on July 22nd, 2011. Posted in Taxpayer Victory

Taxpayer Victory: No New Auto Tax

On a 2-5 vote, the County Board yesterday defeated a proposal to assess a $5 tax onto every automobile in Hennepin County.  Commissioners Callison, Johnson, Opat and Stenglein joined me in voting “no”.

The rationale given for the new tax: It would benefit property tax payers in the county by shifting $4 million per year off the property tax role and onto automobile owners – an appropriate user fee for those who use the roads.

To argue that creating a new tax on our constituents somehow benefits them is … curious.  In reality, I think there were probably two more important motives behind this proposal:

1. More Money.  Government at every level is always looking for new sources of revenue.  While the amount this new tax would have yielded was small in the grand scheme of a $1.56 billion budget, it was new money nonetheless.  And “naive” would be a mild descriptor for anyone who believed we would actually make any long-term cut in property taxes to offset the new tax.

Where’s the Truth in the Budget Debate?

Written by Jeff Johnson on June 22nd, 2011. Posted in General

No one is proposing a spending cut

How is it that the debate over the Minnesota budget has become so blatantly dishonest over the past couple months?

All I hear and read is that our choices are between an “all cuts” budget from the Republican legislature that slashes spending and cuts to the bone versus a “balanced approach” from Governor Dayton that combines deep spending cuts with increases in taxes on the wealthy.

The analysis is simply false…It’s a lie.

In reality, both the Republican proposal and the Governor’s proposal would increase the budget in the coming biennium over the past biennium, it’s just that Dayton’s proposal would increase the budget exponentially more than the Republicans.