September 11, 2013

Commissioners eye $147 million preliminary budget

By Neal A. Shipman
Farmer Editor

With energy development continuing to grow, the impacts associated with that growth are being felt all across McKenzie County. And one of the biggest places where that impact is being felt is in the realm of county government trying to provide law enforcement, social services and road services to the residents of McKenzie County.
And all that growing demand for increased services is reflected in the $147.6 million preliminary budget that is being reviewed by the McKenzie County Commissioners.
“We are seeing a tremendous increase in the level of service that the county is being asked to provide,” states Linda Svihovec, McKenzie County auditor. “We (the county) are looking at hiring 31 new positions to take care of increasing needs, we’re trying to maintain our county road system and also meet the needs of all of the county’s departments with this budget.”
Svihovec acknowledges that the preliminary budget of $147,623,739 is a sizable increase from the county’s 2013 budget of $114,154,656. But she also says that the preliminary budget is just that - it is preliminary.
“The county commissioners are still reviewing this budget and there could very well be changes,” states Svihovec. “And there will be a hearing on Sept. 19 at which time the public will have an opportunity to share their concerns.”
According to Svihovec, the biggest budget increases are in the Sheriff’s Dept., which is asking for three new deputies and two new dispatchers; in Social Services, which is seeking five new positions; and in the Road Dept., which is requesting three new positions, as well as expanding the Engineering Dept.
In addition, the new budget includes funding for a new full-time State’s Attorney office.
While Svihovec says that the preliminary budget is the largest in the county’s history, the burden on local taxpayers is going to be less than last year.
“The preliminary budget is only asking for a $1.8 million mill levy on McKenzie County taxpayers,” states Svihovec. “That is a $500,000 increase from the 2013 tax levy.”
But because taxable valuations across the county have increased from $46.5 million in 2013 to $73.2 million in 2014, the county is able to generate more money per mill.
“Last year, one mill brought in $46,500 to the county,” stated Svihovec. “This year, that one mill will generate $73,200.”
And that means, according to Svihovec, that most McKenzie County taxpayers will see the county portion of their tax statement lower this year.
According to Svihovec, a Watford City home that had a taxable valuation of $165,730 in 2012 and paid $186 in county taxes saw its valuation increase to $206,010 in 2013, but its county taxes actually decrease to $177.
Svihovec says that while some taxpayers may see a slight increase in their taxes, most will find the county portion to be lower.
“As valuations go up, we (the county) are going to be able to do more,” states Svihovec. “During the past year the county saw a $22 million growth in taxable valuations.”
Of the $22 million in new growth, $9 million was in new residential and commercial construction in the county. The balance of the increase, according to Svihovec, was from utility construction, which was primarily pipeline construction.
According to Svihovec, the county receives the bulk of its budgeted revenue from oil and gas funds, as well as other state and federal funding sources, which helps reduce the cost of services to the local taxpayers.
In 2014, the county is anticipating receiving $132 million in oil and gas production taxes compared to $109 million a year ago, while its roads and bridges fund will see an increase from $38.9 million to $58 million.
“The boom in the oil has been both a blessing and a curse to the county,” states Svihovec. “It is bringing in more money to the county. But it is also forcing the county to spend more money to meet the needs.”
A hearing on the preliminary budget will be held at 9 a.m. on Thursday, Sept. 19 at the McKenzie County Courthouse. The budget hearing is open to the public.