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Commissioners elaborate on budget choices

Most want to prioritize roads but disagree on how to do so

Staff writer

County commissioners are pondering reduced appraisal values, increased budget requests, and as-yet-unknown effects of economic slowdowns while reviewing what department heads are asking for in planning next year’s budget.

Not all budget requests have been made, so no total is available for this year’s wish list.

In an interview Tuesday, commissioner Randy Dallke said departments always ask for budget increases, and employees always expect raises.

“This is the first year that we have faced depreciation in property values,” Dallke said.

Some things don’t have to be purchased, he said, but there are always things that do have to be purchased.

“They want us to fit it into the budget this year when we’re under a tax lid,” he said.

Taxpayers expect good roads and other services, Dallke said, but a gap exists between revenues and expectations.

“Then there’s COVID and how it will affect whether people can pay their taxes,” he said. “We’re going to have to tighten our belt somewhere, otherwise we have to cut money for the roads, and that’s not going to set well with people.”

Last year was the first year the county took money out of capital outlay funds to make the budget work. That allowed 330th Rd. to be fixed.

The county has to set its budget like a household budget, Dallke said.

“We cannot build roads without having a capital outlay to build roads with,” he said.

The county needs to buy road rock and put money back for blacktop roads, he said. Both should be the first priority for the commission in his view.

“With the tax lid, we can’t raise taxes,” Dallke said. “The public wants better roads, and we’d have to put better roads out there and let people vote on it.”

Commissioner Dianne Novak disagrees with spending more money for the road and bridge department.

The department’s budget request is “far above and beyond” last year’s budget, she said in an interview.

“I don’t think throwing a lot of money at it is the answer,” she said. “I think we need to reconstruct the whole operation. They need to crown the roads and they are just not doing it. I know we’re spending a lot of money in training but I’m not sure what they are being trained to do.”

Novak said crowning roads so water would quickly go off would solve half the problem.

She said her approach to this year’s budget would be cautious.

Like Dallke, she cited decreased property assessments and budget uncertainties caused by this year’s COVID epidemic.

“I think the county is already struggling with too high of a mill levy,” Novak said.

She thinks making across-the-board cuts might be a good idea.

Commission chairman Jonah Gehring noted that the county population had dwindled, which caused taxes to maintain infrastructure to weigh more heavily on residents.

“We’ve got to figure out how to do more with less in order to do everything we do,” he said.

Gehring said roads were the most important thing to address.

“Everything in that department costs more than everything else,” he said. “It’s a tough job as it is, and it’s even harder if the department doesn’t have the budget.”

Gehring hopes money can be shifted from other departments to accommodate road and bridge needs. That would maintain the mill levy or at least avoid having to ask voters for money beyond a tax lid.

Roads are not his only concern, Gehring said. When a representative of Legal Aid asked commissioners Monday for $4,000 to do work primarily aimed at helping battered women, Gehring wanted to grant that request.

“I’m not going to let the ball drop on an administrator,” Gehring said. “I know it’s an extra expense, but I think it would make everything easier.”

Last modified June 25, 2020

 

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