WEST FARGO — The city is considering a 2022 budget that will increase its mill levy by 4.5 mills, or about $20.25 for every $100,000 in home value or $51.43 for a home with the 2020 median sale price of about $254,000.

The mill increase would include a 3.4-mill increase to the city for the general fund and a 1.1-mill increase for the library budget. A funds transfer from the general fund would be used to cover a revenue deficit caused by reduced mill levies in previous years and the expansion of the fire department. But there will not be a transfer of funds from water, sewer and sanitation funds to offset any general costs.

City Administrator Tina Fisk presented the preliminary 2022 budget to the West Fargo City Commission on Monday, Aug. 2. Once the city sets its preliminary budget, the tax levy cannot be increased again; it can only be reduced before the final budget is set in September.

"We are approving the preliminary budget. This does not mean conversations are over," Mayor Bernie Dardis said.

While the commission approved the budget with a 5-to-4 vote — Commissioner Mark Simmons voted against the measure — commissioners asked that the mill levy increase be reduced further.

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"We truly have brought you a truly lean budget," Fisk said. "Please tell me where you want me to cut."

The 2022 preliminary budget requests included the ability to hire six new employees for the city, including: three firefighters, one full-time crime analyst, one engineering assessment coordinator, one fleet equipment technician in public works and one more IT technician.

Commissioner Eric Gjerdevig said he was concerned the city should have a set dollar amount to keep in the city's reserve funds..

Fisk said Fargo carries an excess of $100 million in its reserves.

"That is certainly a benchmark," he said. "I think it's a point to make in the budgeting process to be spending money out of the reserves."

Gjerdevig said he was OK with the library's request of an increase but he believes there are some areas where the city can still cut. While he supported the preliminary budget on Monday, he said he would not support a final 2022 budget with a 4.5-mill increase.

"For example we can stagger some of those hires, and that could drop a mill," he said. "But it does give us a chance to give the value of a mill to catch up."

Dardis said the area of "travel" for city employees could be cut significantly.

"We're going to do everything we need to do to provide the services we need to provide to our citizens," Dardis said. "We're not going to shortchange the residents on services."

The preliminary budget showed an increase in some department budgets by more than 20%, such as the engineering department, which has a budget increase of 46% from $616,200 to more than $1 million. The communications department has a 30% increase from the projected 2021 budget of $391,500 to about $515,600. The police department budget would increase by 7%, or from $9.145 million to $10.139 million.

The public works department would increase from $156,800 to $355,200 along with the city's "fleet and facilities" budget that is increasing from $650,149 to $335,216.

Fisk said some budgets may look like they will have large increases, but that appears because the city is reallocating costs to the proper departments after years of funding most of public works out of water and sewer.

Liann Hanson, library board president, said the library would need to increase its funding to maintain the current services it provides.

The library currently employs 12 staff full time, after a retooling of positions earlier this year.

"Some positions needed to be eliminated; some positions needed to be revamped," Library Director Carissa Hansen said. "We function no differently than any other city department from an HR perspective."

Fisk said more city services are being provided as the city continues to grow. There has been a 300% increase in fire calls between 2017 and 2020 and the city projected a 20% increase in police calls between 2017 and 2021.

She said services may need to be cut if she has to cut additional money out of the budget.

Since 2018, there have been 45 additional subdivisions developed. The city added about 22.38 more lane miles of streets since 2017, and 1,099 new residential units were built along with 81 commercial units since 2018.

The city's total mill levy estimate for 2022 is 81.97. In 2020, the mill levy was at 77.47. The mill levy has steadily risen since 2018 when it increased to 73.08 from 70.24 in 2017. In 2019, the mill levy increased by only .14 to 73.22 and in 2020, it was increased to 77.98.

The final budget hearing will be in September. The budget must be submitted to Cass County by Oct. 10.