Curbing tax growth
County to attempt more budget cuts
Ward County residents asked county commissioners to curb tax growth at a public hearing Thursday on a proposed 2022 budget of $56 million.
Commissioners voted to ask department heads to review their budgets and propose cuts for the commission to consider at a special meeting Sept. 30. The motion did not suggest any specific amount or percentage cut, prompting Commissioner John Fjeldahl to vote against it in the 4-1 vote.
Some taxpayers who spoke at the public hearing came seeking information about how the commission plans to hold the line on spending. Others stressed the need to lower the county’s projected 2022 levy, which in an initial preliminary budget was up 10 mills from 2021.
The county came into the public hearing having already taken actions to trim the proposed mill levy to 66.56, still up from 61.88 mills in the past year’s tax statement. It represents an increase of about $42 on a $200,000 home.
Dan Drovdal, Minot, said his estimated tax notice showed his property taxes in the county would be up 17%, based on property valuation and proposed levy increases.
“Obviously, that concerns me greatly,” he said.
Travis Zablotney, Minot, mentioned the difficulty rising taxes have on the Minot School District’s ability to pass a warranted bond issue.
“With the tax environment that we already have in Ward County, and not just the county — it’s the city as well and other taxing entities — I think it’s going to make it extremely difficult to get something like that. I think everybody needs to do something to reduce the tax load in their own portion of the government,” he said. “The members of this county have forever and ever been looking for tax relief, not tax increases.”
Commissioner Jim Rostad said a certain percentage of the property-tax request is for outside groups, such as historical societies and economic development groups.
“I don’t think we have seen a whole lot of waste, but they continually ask us for an increase in their budgets, and it is difficult to say no when they are trying to keep their little towns going,” he said.
Zablotney also questioned whether the county may have too many buildings to maintain. Fjeldahl responded the county may decide to divest itself of the County North building. With the relocation of the highway department, the county is shifting its storage from County North to the former highway facility.
Commissioners indicated an interest in taking another look at whether to add more employees.
The budget currently adds a juvenile detention officer, information technology specialist and buildings and grounds worker. In addition, an assistant veterans service officer, court security position and horticulture agent would move from part-time to full-time and a human resources position would be reclassified at a higher salary. In total, it amounts to just over $313,000 in new spending.
Fjeldahl said he cannot support new positions if there aren’t offsetting budget cuts.
“If they’re not able to trim their budgets in other ways,” he said of departments, “we have to consider how many people we have working here and justify their jobs.”