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VSO, Tax Director requests budget increases for 2019

Stark County Commissioners Tuesday heard requests from two departments for budget increases.

Veteran Services Officer Jessica Clifton requested a salary adjustment for 2019 "to compare with other county office positions."

A staff member is becoming a full-time employee, Clifton explained.

There are 2,943 veterans registered with the Stark County office, includings those registered through joint powers agreements. In 2014, the VSO had 1,600 registered.

The Stark County VSO has agreements with Dunn, Billings, Hettinger and Grant counties.

Those counties are charged for services based on their veteran populations.

Dunn, Billings and Hettinger, which have about the same populations, are charged $13,000, and Grant, which has a smaller population, is charged $10,000.

"With all of those joint powers agreements, that brings an additional $49,000 to our budget," Clifton said.

Dues will be increased in 2019, amounting to $50 per county for the North Dakota Department of Veterans Affairs conference and National Association of County Veterans Service Officers.

"(The costs) are not significant," Clifton said.

Clifton reported that the VSO's transportation voucher program is in its third year.

The VSO provides vouchers to its clients who are in need of transportation in Dickinson.

"The program is run off of 100 percent of donations through organizations and individuals," Clifton said.

The office's outreach efforts continue to expand in Stark County and southwest North Dakota, Clifton said.

The VSO has been involved with veteran and military appreciation nights with the Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation and Badlands Big Sticks, and participated in the Dickinson Area Chamber of Commerce Festival of Trees, several open house events and POW ceremonies, among other events.

A Veterans Suicide Awareness Walk is planned for Sept. 29.

County Tax Director Natalie Wandler requested a salary increase for herself from roughly $67,000 to $78,000.

Wandler cited her own increased workload and additional work she has done for the county auditor's office.

"For the county auditor, I've been uploading and signing off on all the abstracts except for the tax abstracts... all of the utilities and all of our abatements," she said.

She added, "This is a major workload and responsibility."

Wandler said she agreed to help with tax abatements when she became tax director, but "had no idea they would become so time consuming."

The office last year handled 106 abatements and has already received 14 this year.

"Most of them come at the busiest time of the year," she said. "With only two people in my office, trying to get our February 1st assessments done gets to be a little challenging."

Wandler said she and County Auditor Kay Haag agreed that, rather than returning the duties to the auditor's office, a pay increase would be the best solution, with abatement work continuing in the tax director's office.