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Finances top county commissioners’ agenda

By Staff | Jan 11, 2019

Budget and financial matters topped the list of topics discussed by Pierce County commissioners at their regular meeting Thursday, January 3.

After the board reviewed the county’s financials for December, Sheriff Josh Siegler and Heart of America Treatment and Correctional Center Administrator Mike Graner joined the meeting.

Graner told the commissioners, “In November we posted a significant loss a loss of $133,678.04. We kind of prepped everyone for that we had double payroll. We also paid our responsibility for (Clinical Mental Health Counselor) Dori Lennert.”

Graner explained the payment was in a lump sum of approximately $32,000, which would cover services until June 30 of this year.

The commissioners addressed discussing the mental health budget with the Rugby Public School District, which uses mental health services provided by Lennert three days a week.

“It would be nice to see the numbers is the school using (the services) more than the rest?” asked Commissioner Dave Migler. ” Should they be paying more? Are we going to be paying the rest of it? Should we be paying less?”

The board addressed the possibility of discussing pay structures to meet their obligation for services. Pierce County Auditor Karin Fursather said per the current lump-sum payment structure, the county would next pay for services in December of this year.

“If we ever get a contract, it would be looked at every year,” she said.

Graner told the group the county’s collaboration with the school district made mental health services possible for both agencies. “She’s tracking her hours, of course, out at the jail, contact hours, face to face hours, and basing (payments) on that,” he said.

Graner attributed the fact November had two paydays for employees rather than the usual one payday per month as the major reason for the shortfall.

However, Graner reminded the commissioners the jail was still in good financial shape, with funds to cover losses like the one posted in November.

“I want to point out that losses like that are not going to be the norm, but they get people’s attention,” he said. “But looking at the budget, the expenditures and revenue that Karin sent to me, for the year, we actually, on the revenue side, generated over $198,000 more than I actually estimated. And our costs were $46,477 below budgeted total. So, I think that’s important to look at too. That increased revenue decreased expenses that we expected budget wise, but the budget that was submitted for the year was a budget that posted a loss, too.”

The commissioners noted the jail facility was free of any mortgage debts as well.

“That’s important to remind people, too, who ask questions about the jail. The jail’s paid for,” Graner indicated. “You have organizations and counties Ward County, McKenzie County they’re just starting to unload their liabilities and pay that down.”

Graner said the average number of inmates at the facility had dropped in December, with an average count of 97, down from November’s average of 105. The count as of January 3 was 102. The December booking count was 66, with 65 releases, up from 56 bookings in November.

“Our numbers are lower (than November) too, but hopefully we can clear $15,000 in December,” Graner noted.

The commissioners approved HACTC financials.

Sheriff Siegler reported 47 total calls for law enforcement services in December. There was 1 fire call; 2 were for traffic accidents; 5 calls to assist other agencies, 6 prisoner transports, 23 citations, 22 papers served and 5 warrants served. There were 9 arrests, with 1 for driving under suspension, 1 for driving under the influence, 1 for possession of marijuana, 1 for misuse of 911 services, and 5 warrants.

The board returned to financial discussions when the commissioners approved three applications for tax abatement. County Assessor Kelsey Siegler presented a proposal to set fees for aggregate mining companies hauling gravel on Pierce County roads. The board approved the proposal.

Kelsey Siegler also presented information on agricultural land values in Pierce County, and recommended a valuation increase of 6 percent to bring land values within tolerance ranges set by the state of North Dakota. She said the percentage is based on valuation of land calculated with a formula primarily using soil quality and productivity models, and returns on investment. The value of inundated land is calculated at only 10 percent of the price of non-cropland.

“We have to be within 90 to 100 percent of land valuations set by the state, and a 6 percent increase puts us right at 93 percent,” Kelsey later explained to the Tribune.

Kelsey Siegler told the commissioners that the valuation increase would not mean taxes would increase by 6 percent on agricultural land.

After approving the land valuation increase, the commission listened as Fursather read the pledge of assets for January 1, 2019.

Migler and Fursather next updated the board on the progress Pierce County was making toward forming a new social service district with McHenry and Bottineau Counties.

“I think things moved along really well last time. So, now it comes down to the numbers each county’s numbers,” said Migler.

The board discussed details that still needed attention, such as social service worker salaries, schedules, and budgets.

Fursather noted, “If we’re short dollars (in the social services budget), it (the difference) will be split 1/3, 1/3 and 1/3. But I don’t understand, if we’re getting x number of dollars from the state, they should make it work with those dollars.”

Several commissioners questioned the role the state of North Dakota would play in financial matters for social service under the new plan.

“If (social services) is something the state’s taking over, they should budget for it,” noted Commissioner Terry Hoffert.

Although Migler said ironing out financial details in the new district plan could take as long as six months, “things are moving along pretty good. I think this is going to go good from the sound of it.”

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