October 14, 2014

County okays $188.8 million budget

By Amy Robinson
Farmer Staff Writer

The McKenzie County Commissioners approved a colossal budget of $188.8 million, only cutting $5.8 million out of the preliminary budget that was originally presented. The largest part of this budget reduction includes the areas of salary requests and benefits, some full-time positions, and a very small portion of the road and bridge budget.
This enormous budget shows a substantial growth of more than double the actual budget in 2013, which was $84,347,377, with the largest portion of this astronomical budget going into the road and bridge budget at $133,570,359.
The board decided to cut any existing payroll adjustments that were beyond the five percent increase for cost of living.
“These cuts were made with the understanding that we have contracted with a consultant, (Fox Lawson & Associates) to do a comprehensive salary and position analysis study, which will hopefully be completed this fall, in conjunction with Williams County,” said Linda Svihovec, McKenzie County auditor. “Once completed, if the study identifies that there are positions within the market that are under-paid, there is room  in the budget to make changes for any positions found to be severely under-paid.”
There were also adjustments made in the specific budgets regarding overtime in departments where new positions are going to be added with the hope of filling those positions, thus eliminating the need for over-time budgeting.
Some reductions were also made in the landfill budget. Due to immediate equipment needs, purchases needed to be made, so funds were taken out of the current 2014 budget. Therefore, those budget needs are being met with 2014 funding and are no longer needed in the 2015 budget.
A $2 million reduction was also made to the road and bridge budget. There was $6 million for “right of way purchases” but with further analysis, it was found that the county actually owns some of the right of way needed for the new construction. Since the county owns some of the right of way, the amount proposed in the preliminary budget is no longer needed, justifying this reduction to the 2015 final budget.
And out of the 49 new employee requests in the proposed budget, only four positions were not approved. Those four positions are part of the 17 requested positions from the Sheriff’s Office.
With these adjustments however, the board did not adjust or reduce the amount of tax levy. It will stay the same. With the original goal to not gouge the taxpayers, taxpayers will still only be providing 1.25 percent of the total budget, which equates to approximately $3.02 million of the total $188.8 million.
Svihovec is still hopeful that there is a good chance the county may receive the $50 million from the Legislature during the early spring session allocation.
Local government officials are also still hopeful for a 40-60 oil and gas tax revenue split - in favor of the oil-producing counties. Currently, it is a 25-75 split - in favor of the state.
“We have projects on the shelf ready to go, if the 40-60 goes through,” said Svihovec. “But we did not build that into this budget.”
Some of the capital improvement building projects include a new law enforcement center, the McKenzie County Courthouse remodel and addition, and essential employee housing.
“There is still about $2 million allotted in the 2015 budget to wrap up the courthouse project,” said Svihovec. “That didn’t change.”
According to Gene Veeder, executive director of the McKenzie County Job Development Authority, there is $7 million for essential employee housing.
“Nothing is finalized yet, but the board has a couple really good options they’re working on,” said Veeder. “It’s a joint venture with two private sector entities. There are two really good proposals that the county would partner on, and these proposals would include senior housing, essential work force housing, affordable family housing, and market-rate housing. This would hopefully help, in some capacity, solve some of the housing issues in our community, to include the general public, not just for the county/city employees.”
Some of the new staff requests that were approved will include two new positions for the state’s attorney - 13 in the sheriff’s office; one position in the tax director office; one in the planning and zoning; four in Social Services, two in the rural water department; and 15 in the road department.
“With this approved 2015 budget, we will be able to make substantial investments into our county roads and the services provided by the county,” said Svihovec.