The city of West Fargo is considering increasing its mill levy in 2020, which would provide more funding for the fire department and library.
City Administrator Tina Fisk said that very early budget numbers would increase the city’s mill levy of 73 mills by 5.35 mills.
The mill increase would raise property taxes by $20 on the average $100,000 home.
“It’s still pretty good, considering,” Fisk said. “And it could still go down.”
Of those 5.35 mills, 4 mills would go to the fire department, 1 mill would be allocated to the library and .35 mills would be allocated to the city’s special assessment funds. After hiring paid, on-call firefighters for the first time in 2018, the fire department will officially become a city department on Jan. 1. It will continue to be a hybrid department, using full-time firefighters and paid, on-call volunteer firefighters.
The City Commission will set its preliminary budget at its Aug. 5 meeting and the final budget would not be approved until November.
“By setting the preliminary budget, they are setting expenditures so they can’t increase it anymore but it can still be decreased,” Fisk said.
The 4 mills would help increase the fire department’s budget to possibly add more staff and help cover expenses it has occurred by continued increases in call volumes as the city grows. The fire department currently 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.
Chief Dan Fuller has asked to add three administrative positions in 2020, which would help the department prepare for continued growth. However, at the City Commission’s last meeting, Commissioner Mark Simmons questioned if the positions would be the best use of taxpayer money in 2020.
"Those positions would be 3 mills in itself, Simmons said. “I support the fire department, but, I want to be very, very careful between the wants and the needs of what we are doing.”
Once the department becomes an official city department on Jan. 1, an all-volunteer department will handle rural calls.
While the city’s lone library has hoped to expand for many years to better serve residents, the 1 mill increase in its budget would likely just cover 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.
Library Director Sandra Hannahs said the decrease in funding last year was covered by the city's reserve fund.
"Although our funding was cut last year, our budget wasn’t," she said. "The remaining operating costs were covered by the library’s reserve fund, where any unspent funds are placed at the end of the year. It’s spent down periodically so the library doesn’t hoard money that was allocated for library operations."
The city levied 6.47 mills or $ 1.1 million in tax dollars in 2019 for the library to use for its $1.4 million in expenses.
The City Commission will set its preliminary budget at the Aug. 5 meeting. The city must hand in its preliminary budget to the Cass County auditor by Aug. 10. Between Sept. 7 and Oct. 7, the city will host public hearings before adopting the final budget later in October.