Proposed Ward County budget sees increased spending

Ward County’s nearly $52 million preliminary budget for 2015 will cost taxpayers noticeably more if county commissioners approve the spending plan as proposed.

The commission still is considering changes, though, and will take public input at a hearing set for Sept. 25 at 6:30 p.m. in the courthouse’s Ex-Servicemen’s Room.

The county’s share of the property tax on a $200,000 home would increase from about $516 to $598, which includes the 12 percent state buydown. The average rural residential valuation is going up 8 percent, however, so that would increase the tax to about $646. The average residential valuation in Minot is largely unchanged. Farmland value is up 11 percent on average. The county’s share of the property tax on an quarter of agricultural land, valued at the county average of $557 an acre, would be about $296.

An overall increase in spending of about 9 percent and tax levy increase of about 10 mills was of some concern to commissioners, who approved the preliminary budget on a 4-1 vote at a meeting Tuesday.

“What’s catching up with us is the growth and the impact of the growth,” Commissioner Alan Walter said.

Commissioner John Fjeldahl was bothered that additional taxes from new construction in the county won’t come close to covering the additional budget costs, thus raising taxes overall. Fjeldahl voted against approving the preliminary budget.

The commission added about 1.26 mills, or $400,000, to the budget at the request of the Souris River Joint Board, which is overseeing development of a flood control project for the Souris River Basin. The board is seeking property taxes from Ward, Renville, McHenry and Bottineau counties to hire a project manager and cover other local costs associated with basin flood control. The City of Minot already is designating a half cent of sales tax toward basin flood control.

The board has authority by law to request up to 2 mills in property tax. The board currently is operating with a grant from the State Water Commission.

Members of the Souris Basin Preservation Coalition opposed the imposition of any tax for the joint board. The coalition has more than 150 members who advocate for the interests of landowners upstream and downstream of Minot.

“We have been promised many things that are going to happen, but we haven’t seen anything yet,” said John Rognlien, Towner, with the coalition. “That’s our biggest concern.”

He said there is talk about ring dikes for protection but they would resolve issues for only a limited number of landowners.

“The first priority of the Souris River Joint Water Resources Board should be to develop a flood plan that addresses all the issues. This seems impossible until the Army Corps of Engineers is involved,” he said.

David Ashley of Voltaire, chairman of the joint board, said the board is taking a basinwide approach and expects a final plan that will include ring dikes as just a small part of a larger solution for the rural areas.

“We are trying the best we can. Maybe that’s not good enough, but we are sure trying to help these folks with their problems,” Ashley said.

The best solution would be a new river management plan, he said.

“There’s progress being made,” Ashley said. “There are things that can be done and there are negotiations taking place currently to try to improve the river management system. … International agreements don’t get changed overnight. It’s a lengthy process.”

Ashley added that the board wants to see the Corps of Engineers become involved.