The Ward County Commission hashed out a preliminary budget of $41.2 million for 2013 during a regularly scheduled meeting Tuesday.
The preliminary budget represents an increase over the 2012 final budget of just under $35.9 million. While the budget has grown, the commission has tried to keep it in check by asking department heads to cut $1.4 million from their requests. They managed to cut $1.65 million by trimming everything from four laptops in the state's attorney's office to a new position and vehicle for the sheriff's department. Salary increases were also reduced from 10 percent to 9 percent for employees and 7.5 percent for department heads.
Commissioner Bruce Christianson pointed to an increased valuation due to an expanded tax base and new construction as the key to holding the line on taxes even though the budget will be rising.
"Essentially we are using that increased valuation for the mill levy increase, is very much what it comes down to, it looks like to me," Christianson said.
Commissioner Jack Nybakken thought the Ward County Library was a little too aggressive in limiting salary increases, as it asked for 5 percent across the board rather than the 9 percent for employees and 7.5 percent for the department head.
"I guess I have mixed feelings. I'll support the decision to go ahead with the budget, and again I'll say the departments went above and beyond what they had to do, and I commend them for their unselfishness," Nybakken said. "But the one item I would like to address would be the one department where they were not treated the same as the other departments. I think they should be at the same scale for the department head and the employees."
While the department head for the library wasn't present for the meeting, it was stated that library officials were worried about fitting the higher salary increases into the budget, which is why 5 percent was settled upon.
After more discussion among the board, Nybakken made an amendment to the motion accepting the preliminary budget to adjust the library salary increases to 9 percent for employees and 7.5 percent for the department head. After several calls for a second, commissioner Carroll Erickson finally gave one. In a close vote, the amendment passed 3-2 with commissioners Nybakken, Erickson and Christianson voting for it and commissioners John Fjeldahl and Jerome Gruenberg voting against. The jjtotal difference with the higher salary increases of 7.5 and 9 percent versus 5 percent was expected to be in the neighborhood of $4,500.
The motion to receive and file the preliminary budget for 2013 then passed unanimously.
A public hearing for the budget was set for Sept. 24 at 7 p.m. in the Commissioners Chambers of Ward County Courthouse.