FARGO — Although it's not finalized, the Cass County commissioners on Monday, Aug. 2, approved its preliminary budget for next year calling for 15 new employees and 5.1% cost of living increases for employees, but still aims to keep the tax levy the same as last year.

The $126 million county budget for 2022 will be combined with preliminary spending plans for the city and school district to provide estimated tax statements to property owners by Aug. 31.

All local units of governments must submit to the county preliminary budgets and levies by Aug. 10, which County Finance Director Mike Montplaisir said usually is similar to final documents.

The estimated tax statements will be mailed to residents before final public hearings on the budget by the county, city and school district.

The county's public hearing on its budget is at 3:30 p.m., Monday, Sept. 20.

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The overall county budget is up roughly $3 million, but the levy is expected to stay the same at about 55 mills compared to last year.

Last week, the county commissioners listened for two days to presentations by each county department on their budgets and their reasoning behind their plans.

County Commission Chairman Chad Peterson said he doesn't think many of the counties are thorough in their budget talks, such as meeting with all department heads.

Montplaisir said they usually base the cost of living increase for all county employees on the consumer price index for the Midwest region in April, which was 5.1%. Montplaisir thought it might go down, but instead went up to 6% in May and June.

The boost in pay will help keep existing employees, while helping recruit new workers, he said.

Despite the raises, employees will have to pay more for the county's self-funded health insurance as they held rates steady last year by using some reserve balances, and will make up for two years of needed rate increases in 2022.

Montplaisir added that the growth in the county is also affecting how many employees agencies need.

Thus, the county so far has decided to hire nine new employees in the jail and court security, two in the state's attorney's office, three in information technology and one in the finance office.

Montplaisir said the county will have millions of dollars in federal pandemic relief funds still available in the coming years that can be used for projects.. The new jail intake and booking facility is already being financed by some of those funds and there is talk of using a big chunk of the funds for a new 911 emergency dispatch center, too.