September 8, 2015

County looks at lower Preliminary Budget

By Amy Robinson
Farmer Staff Writer

The McKenzie County Board of Commissioners has prioritized their most important projects that the county feels they need to invest money into during the 2016 budget period.
According to McKenzie County Auditor Linda Svihovec, the county’s preliminary budget for 2016 is $170 million, which is an 11 percent decrease compared to the 2015 budget.
“Last year the commissioners approved a $192 million budget,” said Svihovec. “In March and April, when the price of oil was clearly drastically changing, we were aware that the oil tax revenues were going to be much lower than anticipated in the 2015 budget. When the county got their projections from the State Tax Department and with the revised oil revenue numbers, the commissioners looked at their budget and revised their numbers and expenditures. They eliminated some projects and essentially got down to a $140.8 million budget for the remaining part of 2015.”
However, according to Svihovec, oil revenue numbers were higher than anticipated back in March which allowed for a reserve to help fund next year’s county projects. And she says the budgets show approximately $10 million more in gross production taxes than expected back in March.
Priorities for the board for the 2016 budget include completing phase two of the Northern Bypass and paving County Road 12.
“Those two projects are a big part of the budget,” says Svihovec. “Completing phase two of the Northern Bypass will cost approximately $32.8 million and will include the grading and paving of 15.6 miles of that road. It will connect County Road 10 to U.S. Highway 85. We already did half this year and we’ll finish in 2016.”
Another project that moved up in priority, according to Svihovec, is County Road 12. The east-west route is a heavily-used road near Keene, which runs on an oil well drill line and provides access to several gravel and scoria pits. It is one of the most used county roads with a very large amount of truck traffic.
County Road 12 is currently a gravel road and the plan will include paving and grading 12.4 miles of it at a cost of $26.2 million.
In addition to the two large road-paving projects, the county is also looking at purchasing additional water tanks for dust control, four additional blades for dust control, two new sanders, and hiring four new employees for dust control.
The requested 2016 preliminary county budget, if approved, would include requests for 45 new employees - two in Planning & Zoning, one at the Landfill, two at Social Services, four in Roads & Bridges, and 36 in the Sheriff’s Office. With an additional 45 county employees, the number of county employees would increase from 179 full-time and 25 part-time employees in 2015 to 225 full-time and 24 part-time county employees for 2016.
The biggest request in the number of employees comes from the Sheriff’s Office. If the 36 employee requests were to be approved in the preliminary budget, those positions would include 13 in the Sheriff’s Office, 22 in the jail, and one in dispatch. The Sheriff’s Office requested budget totals $10.8 million, up from $6.8 million in 2015.
The budget also projects $4.3 million in tax levies for 2016, an increase from $3 million in 2015.
“If the tax levy is funded at 100 percent,” says Svihovec, “it’s a 16 percent increase in levy for existing property taxes. But for the first time in over 30 years, there’s a $500,000 property tax levy in the general fund that would go to fund Sheriff Office operations. The board feels that it would be better to start putting in some General Fund taxes now rather than hit taxpayers with a $2 million tax in one year when the Law Enforcement Center is operational.”
Svihovec also said that the budget includes $27.3 million of expected construction costs for the Law Enforcement Center, leaving approximately $15 million to be funded in 2017.
Additionally, there are some special projects that have been worked into the 2016 preliminary county budget including $500,000 for the Veterans Memorial Park, $800,000 for the City of Arnegard, $25,000 for the Killdeer Ambulance Service, and $16,000 for the Grassy Butte Quick Responders.
Something different this year, says Svihovec, is the Water Resource District. As a self-sustaining rural water system, the district is not asking for any funding this year through the budget or tax levy to operate the district.
“Essentially the user fees and the sale of water is paying for the district,” said Svihovec. “It’s the first time in many years. They’ve built up a reserve as well to pay for their $1.9 million system expansion project.”
There is approximately $1.1 million in 2016 budget contributions which includes $200,000 for operating plus a $200,000 commitment for the McKenzie County Healthcare Systems; and increases requested from the McKenzie County Ambulance Service, the Lewis & Clark Museum, the Pioneer Museum, and the Tri County EDC. And there is funding needed for the Atmospheric Resources (Weather Modification) and the County Park, who no longer have levy authority and must be funded by the County General Fund.
For county residents interested in giving input or who have questions regarding the requested 2016 preliminary budget, there will be a public hearing on Wednesday, Sept. 9, at 6 p.m. in the McKenzie County Courthouse.