The coronavirus pandemic and falling oil prices paint a grim picture for Stark County, as an exploratory budget shows a deficit of nearly $450,000 for the 2021 fiscal year. The budget, released by the county at the commission meeting on Tuesday, is only a working copy and one that commissions will mull over leading to their October meeting.

According to Commissioner Jay Elkin the realities of the current economy will force the commission to use funds saved to explicitly deal with circumstances currently faced by the county.

"What we built into (the budget) is a lesser mill levies increase, keeping the mills the same as they were a year ago even though valuations have gone up, understanding that the economy being what it is. This is a conservation act from the county to lessen the tax burden on property owners," Elkin said. "It appears that we'll be taking about $19 million out of our reserves to fund what we are trying to do here."

Auditor Kay Haag reiterated that reserve funds use is not a solution to the problem, and over use of them could result in an empty account down the road.

"What you have to understand by doing that is that you are going to be dwindling down those reserves and it gets to where they can become zero," Haag said. "Then you'll have no money to work with."

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Elkin responded that the commission had considered the ramifications, but were faced with difficult decisions.

"This is a doubled edge sword here and we recognize that, but we also recognize that these are difficult times for our citizens in this county and that's why we are trying to hold things down," Elkin said. "Which is why when it comes to salaries, I'm not in favor of a raise."

The preliminary budget reveals an estimated revenue of $9,091,176 for 2021, comprised primarily from property taxes and intergovernmental revenues such as state aid distributions. The adopted expenditures expected for 2021 reveals expenditures totaling $9,540,925.64, comprised primarily from public safety and general government expenditures such as retirement, health insurance and social security for county employees.

The largest increases in revenue identified in the budget came from reimbursements from the City of Dickinson which nearly doubled from $25,000 to $40,000; contract policing by the Sheriff's Office which nearly doubled from $6,500 to $12,000; and from mineral royalties which increased by nearly $5,000.

The largest increases in expenditures identified came from $75,484.20 in increase for the auditor's office; $46,847.40 in increase for the information technology department; $27,350 increase in the advertising budget; and $15,000 in increase for the youth detention budget.

"This is not a meeting to approve the budget, this is a meeting for all of you to take this home and study this budget," Elkin said. "We will make a motion to approve the budget at our October meeting in a public hearing. If anyone has any questions or suggestions, they can call Kay or they can call me."

Commissioner Elkin can be reached at 701-290-6583 or by email at jayelkin@nd.gov; Auditor Haag can be reached at701-456-7630.