The Bismarck City Commission continues to move forward with a 2022 budget proposal that includes a $4 million property tax increase. As much as the Tribune editorial board hates to see an increase in taxes for residents, the proposal makes sense.
It comes on the heels of last year’s budget process during which commissioners balked at an $8 million increase and decided to split the increase over two years. While taxpayers may be dismayed over the possible increase, they shouldn’t be surprised.
The size of the proposed budget is partially because the city is playing catch-up. Commissioners approved a salary adjustment to put staff salaries slightly above the market rate. It will cost nearly $2.1 million to implement the plan.
A salary plan was created for Bismarck in 2015, but the commission hasn’t consistently followed it. City officials report they are having difficulty filling some positions because of the salary level. The city hopes the plan makes Bismarck more competitive.
The city also wants to replace aging equipment. Delaying maintenance and replacing equipment often results in higher prices.
The budget proposal also recommends adding two police officers, two school resource officers and two information technology employees. The plan includes increased software subscription costs for police and the Central Dakota Communications Center.
Bismarck is adding schools, so more resource officers will be needed. With the increase in cybersecurity attacks across the country, it makes sense to bolster the IT staff. Plus, there’s more reliance on IT. During the pandemic many employees worked from home and support staff were essential.
At the moment the city commission remains divided over the proposed budget, 3-2. Mayor Steve Bakken and commissioners Steve Marquardt and Nancy Guy favored moving forward with the proposal, and commissioners Greg Zenker and Mark Splonkowski opposed doing so.
The public will be able to weigh in on the preliminary budget before the commission votes on approval, and a public hearing will be held before a vote on final budget approval.
Zenker and Splonkowski objected because they both wondered whether more reductions or efficiencies could be found to reduce costs. The Tribune agrees it would be good to find ways to reduce costs, and that responsibility rests with all commissioners and city staff.
Whether that’s possible while meeting one of the commission’s goals of maintaining existing levels of city services remains to be seen. It’s certainly worth the effort of reviewing existing costs.
If the tax increase wins approval it will mean about $126 in new taxes on a $240,000 property. When considering other daily costs are increasing, it’s nothing to brush off. If the commission approves the proposed budget, it needs to be mindful of the pressure on residents when other financial issues arise.