Posted 9/16/14 (Tue)
By Stephanie Allums
Farmer Staff Writer
The McKenzie County Board of Commissioners has prioritized the countless projects that the county needs to invest money into during the 2015 budget period.
According to McKenzie County Auditor Linda Svihovec, the total comes out to be roughly $192.6 million dollars for the 2015 preliminary county budget, a 96.8 percent increase compared to the 2014 budget.
“The size of our budget is hard to believe,” Chairman of the McKenzie County Board of Commissioners Ron Anderson said.
Many of the issues that the county was facing during the 2014 budget year, such as roads, new hires, and keeping up with its departments, they continue to face this year again due to the lack of funding. Although their budget has increased drastically since 2010, the financial needs have also skyrocketed.
In 2010, the budget was $22 million. Now, it’s nearly 10 times that amount in just five years.
“The commissioners are making big commitments with this preliminary budget,” Svihovec said. “We are trying not to gouge the taxpayers. They will only provide 1.2 percent of the total budget. The taxes have gone up over the course of five years, but not a lot compared to other counties in the state.”
Because the valuations in the county have increased, so have the taxes - simply because taxable land, property and businesses are worth more money. Taxpayers are broken up into four categories - agricultural, residential, commercial and pipelines. Each category pays a different percentage in taxes. In 2014, agricultural taxpayers paid 12 percent equaling $362,533; residential taxpayers paid 14 percent equaling $422,955; commercial businesses paid 25 percent equaling $755,277; and pipelines provided 49 percent equaling $1,480,344.
“The commissioners have not raised the tax levy in many years - it has actually gone down,” Svihovec said. “As the valuation goes up, it makes each mill worth more, and the total mills needed goes down.”
Svihovec said there is a good chance that the county may receive $50 million from the Legislature during the early spring session allocation.
“We have built $50 million of income into the budget that we do not have at this point,” Anderson said. “That is money that we are hoping will be in the governor’s budget, and appropriated early in the session. It has to come early so we can seek bids for projects that we have ready to go.”
Local government officials are also hoping for a 60-40 oil and gas tax revenue split - in favor of the oil-producing counties. Right now, it’s a 25-75 split - in favor of the state.
“We feel more confident about getting the $50 million, but not so much about the formula change,” Svihovec said. “McKenzie County is counting on and hoping for more money from the Legislature. We have narrowed our projects down to what the board feels are most important. But we really need that $50 million to get it all done.”
If the county could get the 60-40 formula change for three bienniums, which would be a total of six years, then the board of commissioners feels that they could affordably catch up to the needs of the county, Svihovec explained.
“We would be able to get the law enforcement that we need and get our roads and bridges up to par,” Svihovec said. “It would allow us to make some headway.”
Anderson said, “If that money does not materialize until late in the session, then we will lose most of the 2015 construction season.”
According to Svihovec, some of the key points to the 2015 preliminary budget include the roads and bridges, the capital improvement building projects, and the 58 percent increase in county salary requests. There are 49 new employee requests for 2015.
The road and bridge budgeted funds far exceed any other department requests. The road and bridge budget is sitting at $135.5 million.
“This is a huge piece of our budget,” Svihovec said. “It’s a drastic change from last year, but it is needed. There is so much work that needs to be done on the roads – they need attention. If the tax revenue formula changes, then the bulk of the money that we get will be used to build up our roads to accommodate 105,000 pounds of vehicle weight and improve road safety.”
Anderson said the county needs an additional $40 to $50 million in order to complete one-half of a northern county bypass. The other half would be complete in 2016, he said.
“The northern bypass must be a standalone project,” Anderson said. “We have to keep improving our present paved roads at the same time.”
Also in the 2015 preliminary budget, the McKenzie County Sheriff’s Office is requesting 17 new hires for the department, eight employees at the new jail that will be built, a 34 percent base pay salary increase for current employees at the jail, and a 13 percent pay increase to current sheriff’s office employees. There is $7.8 million in the general budget for the sheriff’s office and jail.
Some of the capital improvement building projects include the McKenzie County Courthouse remodel and addition, building a new law enforcement center and essential employee housing.
There is about $2 million allotted in the 2015 budget to wrap up the courthouse project.
“It was $14 million total,” Svihovec said. “But it will be mostly done in 2014, other than the parking lot, furniture and small things here and there.”
Nearly $13 million will be used to build a law enforcement center at the intersection of 11th Ave. SE and 12th Street SE, which will be a 24-month project.
Roughly $7 million will be used to build essential services employee housing in 2015.
Other departments requesting an increase in current employee base pays include a 32 percent increase for the Clerk of Court; a 23 percent increase for the treasurer; a 15 percent increase for planning and zoning, custodian, and rural water; along with an 11 percent increase for the library.
New staffing requests include two