The West Fargo City Commission approved its preliminary 2020 budget Monday, Aug. 5, which would raise its mill levy by 4.73 mills, to allow the fire department and library operating budgets to grow.

City Administrator Tina Fisk said the mill levy increase would raise property taxes about $21.29 per $100,000 home. The preliminary expenditure budget will increase from 8.6 percent from 2019, or about $722,000.

“We started out with a fear we would have double digit increases this year,” Fisk said Monday. “We got it down from more than a 10 mill increase to just over 4 mills.”

Once the city sets its preliminary budget, the mill levy can be lowered but it cannot increase.

About 3 mills will go to the fire department to add three more staff for leadership. The fire department runs on a $2.9 million budget, of which 15.9 mills are levied by the city, meaning about $2.8 million tax dollars help operate the department.

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Chief Dan Fuller has asked to add three administrative positions in 2020, which would help the department prepare for continued growth.

“We are getting our money’s worth,” Mayor Bernie Dardis said. “We are paying about 70 cents per person for fire.”

Once the department becomes an official city department on Jan. 1, an all-volunteer department will handle rural calls.

The city’s lone library has hoped to expand for many years to better serve residents but the nearly 1 mill increase in the library budget will pay for operating expenses. In the 2019 budget, to keep the mill levy at 73 mills, the city took away 2 mills from the library.

“So this would be giving them back some of the money,” Fisk said.

Fisk said the city will add 14 new staff positions, including additional staff for the municipal court, engineering department, public works and planning to help cover fast growing work loads. One position within the city will be eliminated.

On Monday, the West Fargo School District also set its preliminary budget. Unlike the city, the school board can still increase its mill levy before setting the final budget this fall.

The school district’s preliminary budget will likely raise property taxes about $20 for a $100,000 home.

The school district’s total overall levy in 2020 would be 137.79 mills, an increase over last year's 133.31 mills. That increase would equate to an increase of $20.6 cents for a $100,000 home.

Business Manager Mark Lemer said the general direction of the total levy is increasing, due largely in part to individual levy changes such as the sinking and interest levy, or the fund used to pay off debt.

The West Fargo Park District set its 2020 preliminary budget on Wednesday, Aug. 7. Finance Director Justin Germundson said the park district’s mill levy will stay flat at 26.99 mills, but taxes may still go up.

“Our mills will stay flat at 26.99, but it goes up an estimated $15 per $200,000 because the mill valuation essentially went up 5 percent,” he said.

Between Sept. 7 and Oct. 7, the city will host public hearings before adopting the final budget later in October.