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Bismarck City Commission approves 2023 budget, denies Burleigh County request on public health funding

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The Bismarck City Commission has approved the final 2023 budget and denied a request from Burleigh County on public health funding.

The commission made no changes to the preliminary budget approved in July, and passed it on a 3-2 vote Tuesday. Commissioners Greg Zenker and Mark Splonskowski voted against it, saying they would have been in favor of using some of the city's reserves for a mill levy reduction in light of high inflation rates. 

The final budget focuses on public safety, raises to retain city employees, cybersecurity and equipment replacement within the city’s fleet. The coming year’s budget has no property tax mill levy increases. 

The general fund budget -- which is funded largely by property and sales taxes -- is about $63 million. The preliminary total budget was $303 million, but City Finance Director Dmitriy Chernyak told the Tribune that a solid waste project was eliminated, making the final total budget $299 million. 

The 2022 general fund was approximately $71 million, and the total budget was $330 million. The decrease in this year’s budget is due to projects funded in last year’s budget that aren’t in the 2023 budget, according to Chernyak. 

The city is still conducting a water rate study, but Chernyak said it won’t change the budget in terms of revenue or expenditures. He added that the city may change its rate structure depending on the results of that study.

“The budget, itself, really hasn’t changed. Like I said, we’re supporting police body cameras in the budget, which has been a topic of discussion amongst the community. We’re trying to continue to address cybersecurity needs,” he said. “We’ve been kind of behind on some of that stuff and we’re finally catching up, which is nice.”

Public Health funding

Bismarck and Burleigh County have a joint-powers agreement in place to fund Bismarck-Burleigh Public Health. Chernyak told the Tribune that the city recently requested that the county increase its annual contribution from about $214,000 for 2022 to approximately $332,000 for 2023. 

Chernyak said the agreement is supposed to be an 80-20 split, but the county has been covering only about 17%. He said an additional building and increased maintenance costs have increased costs for the city. 

“It’s become kind of a contentious kind of negotiation, if you will,” he said, adding that the county continues to disagree. “I think it’s unreasonable because the city’s residents end up paying a lot of money to cover the services that are provided to those people that live outside the city.” 

Burleigh County asked that the city allow for a 12% increase instead of a 20% rise for several line items. The county noted that the $332,000 proposal is a 55% increase from its contribution last year. The City Commission denied the request Tuesday via a 4-1 vote. 

County Commissioner Becky Matthews has been working with city and health officials on the budget for Bismarck-Burleigh Public Health. She told the Tribune she was the only commissioner in support of the city’s request during the preliminary budget season, because she believes a lesser amount will hurt services for rural residents.

“My biggest concern through all of it is we have to be very careful with the tax money we spend and I do not take that lightly,” she said. “However, we also need to make sure our most vulnerable out in the county get the care that they need."

She said the issue is "a little contentious ... and I’m not sure how things are going to play out next week Wednesday.” 

Burleigh County will hold a public hearing on its final budget that day. 

Reach Jackie Jahfetson at 701-250-8252 or jackie.jahfetson@bismarcktribune.com.

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