Morton County approves $21 million budget
By LeAnn Eckroth, Lee News
The Morton County Commission on Monday approved a $21 million budget for 2014 without protest.
It will levy $11.1 million in property taxes countywide. About 54 percent of the county revenue comes from property taxes.
Non-property tax revenue for the county includes state aid from the state sales tax, a special tax from the Bison Wind farm – $8,300 per turbine for 70 turbines – and gas tax funds for county road projects. The wind farm tax is shared by the county general fund, the school district for Almont and New Salem and the fire district.
While County Auditor Dawn Rhone did not identify the final county mill levy for next year, she said 96.24 mills would be levied for the county portion of property taxes in Mandan, or 10.45 mills less than in 2013.
Rhone said property values increased by an average of 8.5 percent in Morton County, half because of growth and half because of property value increases. That helped lower individual property tax.
A $200,000 home in Mandan will be taxed a total of $154 less because of the larger tax base and a 12 percent tax credit that the Legislature approved.
Six new employees were added for 2014 to the county staff – two new highway workers, a new deputy, a clerk for the state’s attorney’s office, a new dispatcher for emergency communications and a position in the tax director’s office.
County workers were given a 4 percent pay raise, costing the county $356,000 more in wages.
Four new graders were approved for the county highway department. After trade-ins, their net cost will be $420,000.
County employee retirement plans will be increased by 2 percent, paid half by the county and half by workers. The county will also pay half a 1 percent increase for the law enforcement retirement fund in the budget.
Commissioners did not increase the Lewis and Clark Regional Development Council share of the budget to $18,249 as the economic group requested, but kept it at $15,908 as it did for the 2013 budget. Commissioner Andy Zachmeier said the group has not updated the county commission about any Morton County projects recently.
The Morton County Home Rule Charter Commission decided after the county budget meeting to submit its home rule charter plan to the county commission meeting to create a ballot proposal.
Commissioner Andy Zachmeier said the draft charter simply gives the county the authority to ask voters to approve a sales tax, but no additional powers. The intent behind the home rule charter is to ask voters if they want to help pay for a new jail with Burleigh County in Bismarck.
The Morton County Commission is expected to place two ballot items on next June’s ballot. One would ask if voters they want the home rule charter and the other would ask if they want to approve a half-cent sales to pay for a 450-475 bed jail.
Both counties plan to end the sales tax when the jail is paid for, estimated at six years or less. Burleigh County would pay for 87 percent and Morton County would pay the rest through the sales tax.
Morton County’s home rule charter proposal allows the charter to be repealed or amended if 2 percent of the county population signs a petition asking it go to a county vote. Zachmeier said he did receive a letter asking the charter end when the sales tax does. Commissioner Cody Schulz said the charter “spells out the powers of the county – the power to ask citizens for changes in government.”
Next, the Morton County commission must approve a ballot measure wording for the charter and the jail sales tax votes.
The Burleigh Home Rule Charter Commission will hold a public hearing to explain its limited home rule charter for the jail 5 p.m. Thursday at the City/County Building in Bismarck.