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By Tim Leeds 

Hill County sets budget, holds hearings


With non-tax revenues down but appraised property values up, the Hill County Commission set a preliminary budget slightly higher than last year's, including for the first time in two years, a slight raise for county employees.

The commission, which is continuing hearings on the budget today and Tuesday before voting on it Thursday, set a preliminary budget nearly one-half of 1 percent higher for 2011-12 than the 2010-11 budget. The final total for 2011-12 was set at $11.593 million, compared to last year's $11.539 million.

Commission Chair Mike Wendland and fellow commissioners Kathy Bessette and Jeff LaVoi, said another issue that helped set this year's budget was the department heads holding back on expenses — most had high levels of money in their cash reserves to transfer to this year.

Wendland said he believes that new construction in the county led to the increased property tax values, which helped offset reduced nontax revenue. That included continued declines in projected oil and gas revenue in the county.

The largest part of the budget, the general fund that is used to pay for most mandated services, had total resources slightly higher this year, $6.885 million versus last year's $6.711 million, a 2.59 percent increase.

The next largest account, the road fund, saw a tiny increase of less than $5,000, from $1,814,581 to $1,819,292. But its companion fund, the bridge fund, saw a decrease of more than $37,000, from $469,391 in the 2010-11 budget to $432,357 this year.

The number of accounts with an increase equaled the number of accounts with a decrease, eight each.

The largest decrease, both in dollars and percentage, was in the county health department. The county budgeted that department $264,098 in 2010-11, and decreased the budget to 207,212 in 2011-12, a $56,886, or 21.53 percent, decrease.

The commissioners said that some of the numbers have been, or could be adjusted, for grants that came in or could come in.

Part of that includes grants for disaster assistance for flooding last year and this year. Some of the budget includes money allocated for last year's disaster, but more is yet to come, and the county is in the middle of the process of applying for aid for this year's flooding.

County Clerk and Recorder Darla Dahl said a new process used this year also helped in the budgeting. Instead of having the department heads put all requests in and then eliminating requests, the heads were asked to put in requests for inventory or capital investment separately in a prioritized list.

Once the amount of money available was computed, the commissioners were able to add requests from the departments back in, up to how much was available.

"It's easier to put back in instead of cut, cut, cut, " Dahl said.

The hearings that the county commission started Friday — the preliminary budget still was a work in progress when the hearing started that day — will continue today and Tuesday, starting at 10 each morning. The proposed budget, and last year's, will be available in the commissioners' office in the county courthouse on Third Avenue and Fourth Street.


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