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County considers $93 million budget

Posted 9/12/12 (Wed)

By Kate Ruggles
Farmer Staff Writer

Unprecedented growth within McKenzie County would cause one to assume the proposed McKenzie County Budget for 2013 would reflect the increased demand for more services. And that is exactly what the McKenzie County Commissioners saw as they approved a preliminary budget of $98 million for the coming year.
The proposed budget, which is an almost doubling of last year’s actual budget of $53.4 million, includes five percent cost-of-living increases for county employees, the remodeling of the courthouse and the Law Enforcement Center, the Landfill Expansion project, county road improvements and new county employees.
Starting with the county general government, the 2013 Preliminary County Budget includes an approved five percent cost-of-living raise for employees, according to County Auditor Linda Svihovec. But that only accounts for a small percentage of the $8 million increase for General Government in this year’s proposed budget.
The biggest reasons for the increase are a much needed addition to the courthouse building, a renovation of the Law Enforcement Center, and for expansion of the county landfill.
“We’ve obtained a rough estimate for what it would cost to add on to the courthouse building because we are running out of space,” states Svihovec. “It used to be that no one would come to the county commission meetings, but now they are well attended and the room is often packed. Also, the meeting room has become a coffee break and lunch room, because we are using all the other available space for offices.”
The proposed budget includes $3 million for the courthouse addition project and $1.5 million to renovate the Law Enforcement Center, which has needed an update for some time.
The Law Enforcement Center remodel was placed on the back burner by the onset of the oil boom. But according to the grant application filed by Sheriff Ron Rankin, dilapidated cells and spotty communications systems have brought the project to the forefront of the county’s priority list.
The county has also proposed $2 million for expansion of the county landfill. The project is already underway, and is, in its entirety, an oil impact need.
According to a grant application filled out by County Engineer Mike Greer, before the boom, McKenzie County produced less than 20 tons of waste per day, and now it is up over 100 tons per day.
The majority of the funding for both the Law Enforcement Center Renovation project and the Landfill Expansion project will be funded from Energy Impact and Infrastructure Grants, which will pay for 80 percent of those two projects.  
The other area of the 2013 Preliminary County Budget that saw major increases was Special Revenue Funds. Last year’s actual Special Revenue Funds budget was just over $39 million. But this year’s proposed budget is over $75 million, which is an increase of $35 million from last year. The majority of that money is designated for county roads and bridges.
“This is based on anticipated, but not yet approved funding by the state Legislature for road work and an increase in the amount of oil and gas production tax funds that come back to the county,” Svihovec states.
Most other increases reflect increased needs for salaries, maintenance, vehicles and equipment for the county, including additional funding for a full-time narcotics officer to be located in Watford City and a Human Resources Manager to help fill positions and keep the county organized as the growth has created the need for more positions in the county.
“A Human Resource Manager has been needed for a while,” states Svihovec. “We are also excited about the addition of the narcotics officer to the community. Watford City is going to help with the cost of this position, because that officer will be stationed here and will work closely with the Watford City Police Department.”
While the county’s proposed budget reflects an increase of $44.6 million, the actual mill levy required is less than $1.4 million.
So, what does this mean for area taxpayers? According to Svihovec, it means that the county hopes a lot of the money needed for projects will come from the state in the form of grants and oil and gas production tax revenues.
“We are anticipating another round of impact grants from the state and a change in the oil and gas formula to increase what will come back to the county,” states Svihovec. “If those don’t come through, then we’ll have to start cutting projects.”
Additionally, with all of the construction, there is more property being built in McKenzie County in 2013, meaning that the levy requirement will be spread out over more property owners.
“That will help keep the county’s portion of taxes low,” states Svihovec.
Other revenues contributing to the county budget include the fees generated from overweight vehicles, building permits, which will help fund the newly created county zoning department, and landfill fees, which are anticipated to be around $1 million, according to Svihovec.
“Around two years ago, those fees were roughly $250,000,” states Svihovec.
The preliminary budget was submitted to the county commissioners at their meeting on Sept. 6, and the budget hearing will be held on Sept. 19 beginning at 9 a.m. CDT. At that hearing, the commissioners will meet with each department to review their budget requests for 2013. The budget hearing is open to the public.
The final budget will be submitted for approval by the commissioners at their Oct. 2, 2012 commission meeting.