Parks peruses 2014 budget

Commissioners on the Minot Park Board donned their green visors at Tuesday night’s monthly meeting for a first reading of the draft budget for 2014 operations. The budget being considered was compiled by the park district’s director, Ron Merritt, who presented a projection of $10,951,971 in operational funds needed for the next calendar year.

This figure is about $744,518 higher than the 2013 budget had been, or a seven-percent increase. However, the total mills levied by the district are down by four, from 32.62 this year to an anticipated 28.372 next. Next year will also see a 12 percent buy-down by the state, a property tax reduction on top of the mill decrease after the Legislature passed SB 2036 in May.

The park district has also pulled in about half a million dollars above expectations, with some savings in expenditure in addition to facilities seeing increased revenues as usage begins to normalize to pre-flood levels.

“That was a big plus for us,” said Merritt, with Souris Valley Golf Course fees more than covering operating costs and Roosevelt Park Zoo topping its attendance record, both despite late starts and flood-related handicaps. “We’re about back into a normal routine,” he added, “which feels good.” Barring unforeseen disaster, all parks facilities are expected to reopen at their normal, seasonal times next year.

As discussed in a previous meeting, salaries will see a rise for park employees ranging from three to six percent. “We had to bump those up to stay competitive,” Merritt explained, with an invigorated job market due to the Bakken oil boom nudging up wage rates across the board.

There were no public appearances made regarding the draft budget, but there were some line item discussions among commissioners and department heads, particularly about a capital improvement proposed by the zoo. But discussions did not sideline preliminary approval of the budget, which in accordance with state century code has to wait a seven-day minimum interval before a second reading.

Expected to take place on the first Tuesday or Wednesday of October, the budget needs to be approved and submitted to the county for certification by Oct. 10. The whole process should be concluded before the new year, possibly in November. A copy of the proposed budget will be made available at the park district website for public consideration, and once the date for second reading is announced the meeting will be open to public discussion.

“I think this is going to be a good budget,” said board commissioner Cliff Hovda, noting the addition of a couple of new positions to the district’s administrative functions. “I think the rearrangement of the administration is going to be a big positive.”

Other items included:

– A narrowly accepted 3-2 vote in favor of adopting new pricing for zoo admission as recommended by the zoo committee, with some modification. Unchanged since 2008, the new prices are said to be more comparable to other zoos in North Dakota and surrounding states, about $1 higher across the board. What was debated and ultimately rejected was the recommended hike for children’s admission from $3.75 to $5, which instead was raised only to $4 for children ages 3 to 14. Military and student I.D. holders will both be admitted at a reduced rate, as will seniors.

– The board voted to designate for mountain biking use sections of Centennial Park. The park district has been having problems with extreme bicyclists abusing the grounds around Oak Park and defacing with concrete the skate park near Roosevelt Park.

– Acceptance of a bid of $32,960 from Acme Tools for a utility tractor/snowblower/broom, as well as the approval of seven alcohol permits, $475,533 in bills and $180,286 in salaries.