County talks budget, sets start date for building construction

Ward County Commissioners discussed the preliminary 2014 budget for the county with county auditor and treasurer Devra Smestad at their regular meeting Tuesday morning.

Topics included changes in the initial department requests requested following a conference between department heads and the commissioners last month, as well as dates for the public hearing and acceptance for the budget.

The public hearings and acceptance of the budget will both be done on Sept. 25 at 7 p.m. at the Ward County Courthouse. Commissioners hope to use the Ex-Serviceman’s room on the ground floor for the meeting but may have to use their chambers on the second floor pending availability of the former room.

In short, the 2014 budget it up $6,519,495 from last year, interim fund requests are down $23,509, estimated year-end cash on hand is down $5,527,590, non-tax revenues are estimated to be up $10,232,601, mill levy estimates are up $1,790,975, and the mill rate is down 7.80.

In total, county departments requested $47,630,138, which is down by more than $1 million from their initial requests after being asked to cut and cap to no greater than 8 percent growth levels.

That meant some departments, which had already requested 8 percent growth or below, kept their requests intact.

While the county highway department saw a total increase of $1,723,343 in total funding over last year, the department saw some major cuts including a $35,809 cut in interim funding this budget period compared to last and a $5 million decrease in cash on hand. Projected income for the department is nearly $6 million.

Total cash on hand for the entire county is projected to be down $5,527,590.

Groundbreaking set

Commissioners turned to their fellow commissioner and Mattson Construction employee Jerome Gruenberg to help set a date for a groundbreaking ceremony for the upcoming Ward County Office Building.

After a little discussion they decided on Thursday at 9 a.m. to host the ceremony with construction work to begin as soon as possible. The event will be held in the future site of the building, the dirt lot across the street and directly north of the office building.

“At this time of year each week is important,” said Gruenberg on why he wanted concrete to be poured as soon as possible before winter largely stops progress.

Further discussion involved plenty of talk about parking.

While the county leases the Canadian Pacific Railway lot to the east, directly behind The Minot Daily News building, the commissioners called on county highway engineer Dana Larsen to make signs to direct courthouse employees as well as contracters to park there for overflow.

Third Avenue Southeast, the road between the courthouse and the office building, had been legally vacated for a long time but will now be shut down to make room for staging room and to give contracters some space.

“We’re talking about limited space here,” said commissioner Alan Walter when it was suggested that jail construction move forward, too, by next spring. He argued, and the commissioners agreed, that there would be limited space to work if both projects were ongoing at the same time.

Jail talk

The total bids awarded for the office building came in about $1.5 million over the budget of $15.3 million leaving less money for the other two projects coming up. Initially $10.5 million was budgeted for the jail, with an additional $3 million for courthouse renovations.

That didn’t stop a contracting management company from coming Tuesday to offer their services to manage subcontracters and general contractors from beginning to end for the jail project.

The firm, or another firm should the county decide to look into the idea, would help in the bidding process by suggesting or evaluating different bidding companies. Then they would manage the subs on site as an “at risk” general contractor responsible for developing on time and on budget.

The spokesperson pointed to the recent Grand Forks courthouse budgeted at $16 million that was finished months ahead of schedule and within budget, including the company’s 5 to 8 percent fee.

Commissioner Shelly Weppler brought up another proposal months ago with a similar theme for the office building that was rejected by the commissioners. The difference, though, is that company managed just the mechanical and electrical elements of the building and not the whole thing.

That project is currently on hold, as it has been for months, because the county has yet to secure an agreement with The Minot Daily News over the purchase of their parking lot. There have been other jail designs where the building footprint doesn’t extend into the newspaper’s property, but the favorite design, which does, has been the only thing on the table for months.

This prompted commissioner John Fjeldahl to ask whether a deadline will be set on when the county will just have to move forward with an alternative if an agreement can’t be made. There was nothing decided on that front.