County approves 2014 budget

The 2014 county budget was approved by Ward County commissioners Wednesday evening at a special public hearing.

The budget, which is scheduled for formal and final approval at the Oct. 1 regular county meeting, actually represents a reduction in county taxes for property owners.

A home valued at $200,000 will see a county tax of $591.21, or 65.69 mills. A homeowner of an equally-valued home had to pay $661.41 in taxes, or 73.49 mills, last year.

The savings comes from the fact that there is an estimated 40 percent growth of taxable property in the county over last year.

If a home was valued at $200,000 last year and, increased in valuation by 15 percent to $230,000, then the homeowner will be looking at about an $18 increase in taxes.

Property owners can also look forward to a “negative,” or deduction, of 12 percent on their tax statements, which is help the state is kicking in.

The initial budget requests by department heads came in a little high for the taste of the commissioners. In response they requested a budget reduction of 5 percent and the returned budget was about $1 million less. Departments were to cap their requests at no greater than 8 percent growth.

“I want to thank the county employees for going back to the table and for assessing altogether and for looking at all departments together and saying ‘Where can we make some cuts? What can we do to make this work so that the citizens don’t have to see a great increase,'” said commissioner Shelly Weppler to the audience, which was partially composed of departmental heads.

As like many county public hearings of late, none of the attendees spoke when given the opportunity.

“I hope everybody heard me,” said Chairman Jack Nybakken after a few moments of silence and waiting. It got a laugh.

Commissioner Alan Walter, though, did ask for clarification from Rozanna Larson, the state’s attorney for Ward County, on her department’s budget.

He pointed out that while the final budget is 20 percent less than was initially requested, it is still 26 percent higher than it was last year.

“In my opinion, it is where we need to be. I don’t ask for or take requests lightly. I don’t ask for things that I don’t need,” Larson said in response.

She went through stark numbers in felonies and misdemeanors her office has handled over the last several years, especially from last year to this one.

Every increase in law enforcement departments and efforts countywide, she said, will eventually produce more cases for her office to handle even though it hasn’t seen the same expansion.

In fact, although she did not mention this, her office lost an assistant state’s attorney fairly recently, increasing the caseload there. She said her employees are working late, with one still working as she was speaking, and are skipping on vacation and sick days to keep up.

The commissioners seemed satisfied with her response.