Commissioners trim budget

Revisions bring county’s projected taxes down

AP Photo Ward County Highway Engineer Dana Larsen, back, and Auditor Marisa Haman review budget figures with the Ward County Commission Thursday.

Nearly four hours of number crunching by the Ward County Commission Thursday led to a proposed 2022 budget that comes close to holding the line on property taxes.

The commission postponed final action, but as it stands, the 10-mill increase in the original preliminary budget is roughly estimated to have been reduced to an increase of only about a third of a single mill. That’s less than $3 on the annual tax bill for the owner of a $200,000 home.

The biggest cut came in setting employee salary increases at 2.5%. Department heads suggested the commission approve the lower pay increase while continuing to assess results of a salary study. The preliminary budget had included a 5% salary increase as a place holder while awaiting information from the study.

Department heads also suggested other cuts within their budgets, and commissioners added additional reductions that brought total department cuts to around $790,000. In addition, the commission trimmed 10% on top of any previously made cuts in the budgets of the North Dakota State Fair, historical societies, economic development organizations and Assiniboine River Basin Initiative.

Commissioners spared the Veteran’s Service Office from a cut that would have held the position of veterans service officer at part-time — 32 hours a week. They supported the proposal in the preliminary budget to move the position to 40 hours a week.

“If we wanted to keep him at part-time, that’s fine with me,” Bradley Starnes, director for the Veteran’s Service Office, told commissioners. He said his office has reduced veteran wait times for appointments to about two-and-half weeks with the help of the part-time service officer.

“We’re running efficiently now with him part-time. It was just one of those things where, if we could get it cut down to a week/week and a half, it would be better than two-and-a-half/three weeks, but I believe it still to be an efficient timeline,” Starnes said.

Most budget motions carried unanimously, although Commissioner Jim Rostad opposed some of the 10% cuts and the removal of nearly a half mill from the county road levy.

Highway Engineer Dana Larsen raised concern about the road levy cut.

“There’s no cushion in that budget,” he said of the levy that largely goes to construction projects.

However, Commissioner John Fjeldahl, who suggested the cut, was optimistic the county has reserve funds it can use, if necessary, to avoid eliminating projects. The 8.5-mill highway levy now in the budget compares to 9 mills typically levied.

The revised budget seeks about $112,000 more from property-tax payers. Commissioners are expected to take final action at their meeting next Tuesday.


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