Ward County commissioners plan to cut $58 million preliminary budget
County commissioners plan cuts to preliminary budget
The average Ward County taxpayer would see about a 16% increase in the county’s share of the 2022 property tax bill under a preliminary budget approved by the Ward County Commission Tuesday.
However, commissioners indicated they plan to cut the $58 million preliminary budget and may have a document more palatable for taxpayers by the time of the public budget hearing on Sept. 23.
Major items still to be finalized include health insurance costs and employee pay raises. The commission is waiting on results of an employee compensation review but has plugged a 5% salary increase into the preliminary budget in the meantime. The proposed budget adds three full-time employees and shifts two part-time positions to full-time.
The county also is expecting money through the federal American Rescue Act to offset revenue losses during the COVID-19 pandemic and for use for infrastructure and other purposes not yet clear. Those monies aren’t included in the budget because of uncertainties over the type of spending authorized, but the county expects to receive about $6.5 million, of which nearly $1 million might be shared in part with other local governments.
“Whatever we do with that – in my mind anyhow – we have to consider this a one-time thing that isn’t going to happen every year,” said Commission Chairman John Fjeldahl, who warned against using it to offset budget increases.
The proposed budget as it stands would levy 71.88 mills, an increase of 10 mills from the current budget, even with the value of a mill up slightly. Dollars levied would be $23.6 million, up $3.3 million.
That amounts to a tax of $647 on a $200,000 home, up about $90. The tax on an average quarter of land would be $325, an increase of nearly $51.
The budget totals $52 million or 62.9 mills for county-related expenses, including levies for First District Health Unit and historical societies. Another $6 million or 8.98 mills is included for the following entities: State Fair, Soil Conservation District, Souris River Joint Board, Water Resource Board, Garrison Diversion, Assiniboine River Basin and the Ward County Council on Aging. The commission approved the preliminary budget 4-1. Fjeldahl voted no.
“We probably should have cut something today. But, we’ll get there,” he said.