County considers adopting nearly $11.8 million budget: New positions part of the mix

By: 
DEB HILL
Managing Editor

Friday morning Fergus County commissioners will consider approving a budget totaling close to $11.8 million for the fiscal year that began July 1.

Calculating expenditures

Last month the commission approved a preliminary budget, following a public hearing July 26. According to Commissioner Ross Butcher, the preliminary budget was developed through a series of meetings with department heads, who proposed priorities for the coming fiscal year.

“It starts with meetings with department heads who submit their preliminary budget request to the commissioners through the Clerk and Recorder,” Butcher explained.

Most of the departments use the prior year’s budget as a base, unless they know there will be a need for large expenditures.

“The road department, for example, could need new equipment,” Butcher said. “Or a department may need to modify a facility. Large ticket items go under capitol improvements and the department is asked to justify the need.”

Butcher said once every department has had a chance to submit their proposed budget, the commissioners review the requests and add their own.

This year the commissioners are considering adding two new positions: a buildings and grounds director, responsible for care and maintenance of the courthouse and the fairgrounds, and a director of finance to oversee payroll, budgets and claims.

“These are ideas we are have been discussing for a while,” Butcher said.

Without adding these positions, Fergus County is contemplating expenditures and reserves totaling nearly $11.8 million.

County revenue rises

The other part of budgeting, calculating the county’s income, is equally important.

According to Commissioner Sandy Youngbauer, this year the county received some good news: the value of a mill has risen from roughly $30,401 to close to $34,195.

“The increase is due to the value of new construction in Fergus County,” Youngbauer said. “The Buffalo tank farm project created a lot of new value, as did construction elsewhere in the county.”

Property tax revenue to the county was projected in the preliminary budget at $4.5 million, Youngbauer said.

Currently Fergus County levies 110.87 mills.

The county also receives non-tax revenue. The largest chunk of that comes from Payment in Lieu of Taxes, or PILT. PILT funding is provided by the federal government to compensate for tax revenues the county would have received for the federal lands within its boundaries.

Fergus County has approximately $1 million in PILT funds, and has allocated $284,504 for road maintenance, among other things.

“One thing Fergus County does, which is different from some other counties, is we budget for the PILT we’ve already received, not the PILT we expect to receive,” Butcher said. “Some of the other counties are building budgets based on the PILT income they hope to get, and then if Congress doesn’t appropriate that much, they run into trouble. We don’t do it that way, so we know exactly what we have to work with.”

Proposed new finance position generates concerns

Elected officials Rana Wichman, Fergus County Clerk and Recorder, and Gwen Gehlen, Fergus County Treasurer, attended Friday’s commission meeting to ask questions about the proposal for a new director of finance position.

“I feel like this is putting the cart before the horse,” Wichman said. “We’re setting up a new department but we don’t have any idea of what’s going to be in it. I’m concerned over knowing for sure who is responsible for the duties now done by other departments.”

Wichman explained her department is responsible by statute for some aspects of the budget process.

“Why do we need two people doing this? It doesn’t make sense to me when we pinch pennies over there and then bring in another whole position over here,” Wichman told the commissioners.

Gehlen asked if the commissioners knew what duties they expected the new finance director to be in charge of.

Butcher said he expected the finance director would handle the claims processes, payroll, budgeting and working with departments on their budgets throughout the year.

“Lots of counties have a finance department with a fiscal officer who does the day-to-day accounting and bookkeeping for the county,” Butcher said. “Those I’ve spoken with that adopted a finance director position say they would not go back.”

“I’m concerned about statutory duties I have now,” Gehlen said. “For example, if I have to write a refund check now, I just write it. In the counties I’ve checked with that have finance directors, the director has to sign the check and it could take weeks. I’d like to know how this [new position] will affect my office.”

“Year after year we’ve talked about this, but we are still in the same position,” Butcher said. “This has been discussed the past two years at budget time and it’s time to say we are pursuing it. I want input from everyone involved. We can authorize funding without expending it – if this is determined to be a bad idea, I don’t have a problem saying that.”

The commissioners unanimously approved reorganizing the finance department.

Facilities Maintenance Department also sees changes

At Friday’s meeting the commissioners also unanimously approved reorganizing the facilities department to create a new position of facilities director and an assistant facilities director, along with two facilities staff.

“Overall we will have one more person than we have right now,” Butcher explained, adding the reorganization will create more efficient management of the courthouse and fairgrounds facilities. “Sometimes the fairgrounds can use more help and sometimes more is needed at the courthouse. It would be up to the director to assign duties and determine the best use of facilities staff.”

Butcher said the new position would be opened internally so those existing staff with knowledge of the county’s facilities could apply.

The commissioners will discuss funding for both the facilities and finance departments on Friday, Sept. 1 at 10 a.m. when they meet to approve a final budget for this fiscal year. The deadline to submit the approved budget to the state is Sept. 7.

 

 

 

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