County gives budget preliminary approvalThe Stutsman County Commission gave preliminary approval to a 2012 budget at roughly the same mill rate as the 2011. The budget shifts more spending to roads and includes about $3 million in deficit spending.
By: Keith Norman, The Jamestown Sun
The Stutsman County Commission gave preliminary approval to a 2012 budget at roughly the same mill rate as the 2011. The budget shifts more spending to roads and includes about $3 million in deficit spending.
“The mills are about the same even though we’re increasing the mill rates for roads by about 4 mills,” said Noel Johnson, chief operating officer of Stutsman County. “By adding 4 mills to the roads and not raising the total levy you are doing good.”
The final approval from the commission was for a budget not to exceed 115 mills. The 2011 budget year was funded by a mill levy of 114.51 mills. The exact number of mills to be levied this year will not be known until the utility valuations are certified by the state.
“The state is responsible for setting the valuations for any properties controlled by the North Dakota Public Service Commission,” Johnson said. “This includes utilities like Otter Tail and MDU, pipelines and railroads.”
Johnson said the utility valuations typically vary by less than 5 percent from year to year.
“It has a small impact on the mill levies,” he said. “But it can change the total levy by 0.2 or 0.3 mills.”
If the utility valuations are comparable to last year the total levy for next year would be 114.71 mills.
Increases to the budget include about $2 million in road funds divided between the county road department and the emergency fund. The funds are earmarked to finish the emergency grade raises done this year and fund additional grade raises that are not part of the emergency road program next year. The county also plans to replace two road graders during 2012 for about $370,000. The road budget does not include any new road construction or renovation or grinding any existing paved roads into gravel.
“Even without it in the budget this is something we have to keep in the back of our minds,” said Mark Klose, chairman of the Stutsman County Commission.
The bulk of the increases to the road budget, about $2.6 million, provide funds to cover the 20 percent county share required for finishing roads raised during 2011 under the emergency road program.
The additional 4 mills will generate about $300,000 in new tax revenue. The rest of the increases will be covered by deficit spending from reserves.
Other increased expenditures include $80,000 to hold the primary and general election, $150,000 for roof and elevator repair at the courthouse and $240,000 in increases for wages and heath insurance benefits.
The commission granted a 2 percent cost-of-living raise and a 2 percent step increase for employees. The county will also cover the 3.5 percent cost increase for health insurance and the 1 percent increase in the contribution to the Public Employees Retirement System.
“I’m on my soapbox here,” Johnson said. “We’re deficit spending but it is not your employees’ fault that the roads are underwater and the courthouse needs a new roof.”
The total county budget for 2012 is about $23.5 million with revenues of about $20.5 million. The county is projected to end the current year with reserves of $9.4 million with ending balances of $6.3 million in 2012.
“It is kind of alarming to deficit spend this kind of money,” Johnson said. “But you have reserves to cover one-time expenses for things like flooded roads and roof repairs.”
Johnson said another factor in taxes is valuation. Property values for farm land were increased by about 9 percent resulting in a total increase in valuation in the county of about 5 percent.
“The property classifications where values increased will see an increase in taxes even if the mill levy stays the same,” Johnson said.
The Stutsman County Commission will hold a public hearing on the budget during its regular Oct. 4 meeting. The commission can approve the preliminary budget or amend it lower at that meeting but cannot raise the budget.
Sun reporter Keith Norman can be reached at (701) 952-8452 or by email at email@example.com