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Posted on September 9, 2021 at 11:15 AM by Bryan Obenchain
The 2022 City of Minot budget took a major step forward this week when the City Council approved the budget on first reading.
The budget approved by Council is approximately $175.271 million, a reduction of nearly two mills from the initial budget presented to Council by City Manager Harold Stewart in early August. Several Council members expressed a desire to keep the City’s mill levy as flat as possible for 2022, and I think this budget accomplishes that. The mill levy for 2021 was 121.29; the mill levy in the approved 2022 budget is 121.69.
The removal of nearly two mills from the first version of the budget presented to Council this year represents a reduction of more than $400,000. The changes were accomplished by cutting the number of requested new positions and making other changes.
We must keep in mind that property taxes account for just 15 percent (roughly $26 million) of the entire budget. The City’s portion of the estimated property tax statements residents recently received from Ward County was based on very early figures. Since then, we have reduced our budget, and any rise in the City’s portion of the property tax bill will be based almost entirely on increases in property value; the .4 mill increase will have a minimal, if any, effect on property taxes.
In creating our budget for 2022, we were purposely mindful of the upcoming funding needs of the Minot Public School District. It’s our role as a community partner to keep our property tax level as low as possible to lessen the overall tax burden on our residents. We have no control over the budgets created by Ward County, the Minot Park District, or the public school district. Each of us are separate entities, although we certainly must be cognizant of each other’s impending needs, especially when those needs are critical to the future of our overall community. Construction of a second high school will impact Minot in a number of ways. A strong education system helps our city recruit top quality professionals in all sectors of the workforce, and will be a benefit for the families of Air Force members when they move to our community.
I want to thank City staff members who, in essence, are always in budget mode. While it’s true that the budget creation and approval process runs from early spring to late September, City department heads are tasked with always being mindful of the budget. We expect them to keep a watchful eye on the budget all year, saving money whenever possible as we continue to be good stewards of public funds. In fact, we saved more than $2 million as an organization in 2021 through cost-cutting measures, which helped us when creating the 2022 budget.
I’d also like to thank everyone who provided input to members of the Council or City staff members. Public input is vital to running an effective municipal government. We received some comments via email, during personal visits, and on the phone. Crafting a City budget is a year-round process, and having community input helps guide our decisions. In the end, no budget is likely to please everyone. Still, there must be open discussion, give-and-take, compromise, and concessions from everyone involved, and we’ve accomplished that this year.
The annual budget must be approved at two readings; the second and final reading of the 2022 budget will take place at the City Council meeting on Sept. 20. Even though the 2022 budget isn’t officially approved yet, I know discussions regarding the 2023 budget have already taken place among City staff members, especially department heads. Each year’s budget is not an entirely separate process that results in a stand-alone budget; rather, the next few years of budgets are intertwined. Changes made to the 2022 budget will have an impact on the 2023 budget and beyond.
We believe we have crafted a budget that prioritizes our needs and maintains quality services for our community, and yet does not significantly impact the tax burden for our residents. The process is transparent – the proposed budget has been presented and discussed in open meetings, it has been publicly available for scrutiny for more than a month, and residents were repeatedly encouraged to share their opinions with us.
While we are in the final stages of completing the 2022 budget, we will soon turn our attention to what the budget for 2023 might look like.
Sincerely, City Hall
You can find more about what’s happening at the City of Minot at minotnd.org, or find us on Facebook and Twitter. We’d also encourage you to sign up for our monthly electronic newsletter on our website.
Posted on August 27, 2021 at 10:39 AM by Bryan Obenchain
When the details of the 2020 Census were recently released, we found out that Minot did not reach the 50,000 level we had hoped to achieve. How should we interpret that data? I’m guessing it depends on who you ask.
Scenario 1: We have failed in our attempt to reach 50,000 in population. Minot will never be a big city, and this Census proves that belief. We remain just a big small town, and we won’t be able to attract significantly more residents or businesses in the future. During a decade with an energy boom that helped drive the population of North Dakota from 672,591 in 2010 to 779,094 in 2020, a 15.8% jump, Minot still couldn’t reach 50,000. All is lost, and we are doomed (cue gloomy background music.)
Scenario 2: While we are disappointed we didn’t quite reach 50,000, there are countless positives included in the Census information. Minot grew from 40,888 in 2010 to 48,377 in 2020, a 16.7% increase. Does anyone realistically think during the height of the energy boom that Minot wasn’t home to more than 50,000 people? Now, after several years of economic downturn in the energy sector, Minot is still home to more than 48,000 people. It’s clear we’ve retained a lot of those folks who moved here during the boom years, and that our current population sets us up to reach the 50,000 mark in the next few years.
Obviously, we reject the notion of failure in the first scenario above. It’s nonsense, and anyone pushing that narrative hasn’t been paying attention to what’s actually happening our community.
Yes, it’s true we didn’t reach 50,000 population in the latest Census. But the fact that we are approximately only 1,623 residents away from reaching 50,000 is remarkable when you think about the enormous ebbs and flows our community has been through in the past decade.
An energy boom brought thousands of people to North Dakota from across the United States in seek of work and a better life for themselves and their families. They came to western North Dakota in particular, immediately boosting the population of cities like Minot, Williston, Dickinson, Watford City, and a host of others. In some cases, the growth happened so fast communities couldn’t expand their essential city services fast enough to accommodate the massive growth. And then, a few years ago, the energy industry slowed dramatically, and thousands of those same people left our state, in search of the next great economic opportunity.
A devastating flood destroyed hundreds of structures and disrupted thousands of lives in Minot. Make no mistake, we are on the road to recovery when it comes to flood protection, but the economic and psychological damage done to our community still exists a decade later.
We went into the Census of 2020 hopeful that as a community, we had weathered the economic roller coaster and managed to hold onto enough population to breach the 50,000 plateau. And then COVID-19 happened. When we should have been in grocery stores and other locations in Minot helping people register for the Census, we were instead working remotely, social distancing, and doing everything we could to reduce the spread of the virus. It was not an ideal situation, to say the least.
And yet, in the end, our population stayed strong. It didn’t drop to 45,000 or 46,000. Instead, many of those who moved here during the energy boom stayed, influenced by Minot’s greatest assets, such as great school systems, employment opportunities, and sense of community pride and togetherness. The flood of 2011 certainly was a catalyst for some residents moving away, but hundreds of others impacted by the flood vowed “We will be back,” and despite financial and spiritual struggles, made good on their promise to themselves and their community.
Had it not been for the restrictions brought on by COVID, I believe Minot would very likely have reached the 50,000 level. But despite the significant challenges we faced in the past decade, we grew by 16.7%, and in that time, 7,489 more people decided to make Minot their home. That’s equates to almost 750 new people in our community every year in the past decade. That’s a great accomplishment, and it sets us up for future growth.
So, yeah, we didn’t reach 50,000 as we would have liked. But that level is well within our reach. When we do attain it, we’ll become a federal entitlement community, and that opens up multiple opportunities for Minot to receive additional federal funding through a variety of sources. It also increase our chances of attracting more national business chains, who often use 50,000 as a requirement for population when determining where to expand. Our community’s future is bright, and we are on the cusp of a major accomplishment.
A population of 50,000 remains our goal, and I believe we will continue our steady growth and reach that milestone in the next few years. I’m already excited about the opportunities that will accompany that accomplishment.
Posted on August 13, 2021 at 4:24 PM by Bryan Obenchain
Crafting a budget for the City of Minot is a time-consuming and detailed process that begins in earnest in early spring, and culminates in City Council approval in late September.
City Manager Harold Stewart presented a preliminary 2022 budget of $175.95 million to City Council members on Aug. 2. At Monday’s regular meeting, City Council members will have the opportunity to ask questions and seek more details about the budget from City department heads. The Council meeting scheduled for Sept. 7 includes a public hearing where members of the public can appear before the Council to provide input and ask questions, and the budget is scheduled to be approved on second reading at the Sept. 20 Council meeting.
You can find the preliminary budget on the City’s website at https://www.minotnd.org/ArchiveCenter/ViewFile/Item/578. I encourage anyone who has thoughts on the budget or questions about specific items to contact me or a member of the Council. I’d also encourage you to attend the Sept. 7 public hearing to share your thoughts with us. Municipal government works best when residents are engaged and involved in the budget process.
We recognize that property tax rates garner a lot of attention, and rightly so. It’s our job as elected officials to be good stewards of the public’s money. Of the proposed $175.95 million budget, approximately $26.54 million is obtained through property taxes. The proposed budget includes 123.57 mills, compared to 121.29 mills for 2021. For the owner of a home at the median value of $187,000, property taxes would rise approximately $4.79 a month. The two-mill change is essentially an adjustment to accommodate the way the state calculates a formula for Homestead and veterans property tax credits.
The 2022 proposed budget includes funding to continue work on flood control phases, the Northwest Area Water Supply project, and projects through the National Disaster Resilience program. While the funding for those projects already exists, it must be included in the budget in order to be spent in 2022.
In every budget, we must focus on maintaining critical City services to the community, including things like police and fire protection, water production, street maintenance, sanitation collection, and many others. We must also remember that it takes employees to provide those services, and when the scope of those services expands, the number of employees must be adjusted accordingly. As such, the proposed 2022 budget includes requests for 18 new employees.
As an example, two of the requested positions are in our Transit Department. We currently don’t have a bus route that adequately serves the southwest section of Minot where the new Trinity medical campus is being constructed. Once those facilities are operating, it will be critical for our bus system to provide passengers access to that location. If we expand our service, we must also add new drivers.
The proposed 2022 budget includes several capital improvement projects that were removed from the 2021 budget, projects that are critical to providing essential services to the residents of our community. Those items include:
Every budget is unique, and includes its own challenges. As always, we tasked our City department heads to think creatively in their funding requests. We challenged them to include their budget needs, not their wants. We encouraged them to be prudent and use common sense when presenting their requests. And, as usual, they responded, and I thank all staff members for their diligence in creating this budget.
As part of our recommendations to department heads, we urged them to ensure our property tax rate is kept in check as we work collaboratively with other taxing entities in our community. We know the Minot Public School District is developing a plan to construct a second public high school in Minot, and will be presenting a bond issue to voters in the near future.
A second public high school is critical to our community’s future. A quality education system impacts Minot’s future in many ways, including recruiting the highest quality health care professionals to Minot, recruiting businesses to our community, maintaining a favorable rating for the Department of Defense for families stationed at Minot Air Force Base, and providing more opportunities for our children. It’s imperative that the City does its part to maintain reasonable property tax rates as the school district unveils its plan, and I believe the proposed 2022 budget accomplishes that goal.
A reminder that this is a preliminary budget. Changes often take place, although we cannot increase the proposed budget. We can, however, make reductions to the budget. I look forward to discussing these issues with the Council and City department heads on Monday and with members of the public moving forward.