WEST FARGO — The West Fargo City Commission reversed course and is no longer looking to cut any more of the proposed 4.5 mill levy increase for the 2022 budget.

The commission directed staff at its July 19 meeting to cut the proposed 2022 budget increase another 1 mill or about $197,000.

On Tuesday, Sept. 7, City Administrator Tina Fisk said she asked all department heads to consider what cuts or changes could be made to each budget and she presented the changes to reduce the budget about a mill. Many of the cuts would come in the form of employee training budgets and travel, staggered hires of new staff throughout the year and small raises for city staff. Fisk said she was able to reduce the budget increase about .81 mills or $159,789.

However, before she was finished outlining where cuts could be made, some commissioners said they felt the budget was reduced far enough.

Fisk pointed out that all the items that could be cut this year will likely need to be reinstated for the 2022 budget.

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"We started this budget $4 million in the hole," Fisk said. "We had it from double-digit mill levy increases to just over 6, then we found another revenue source and got it down to 4.5 mills. I do believe this is the leanest budget we can have. People still want services and we have to give them to them."

Commissioner Eric Gjerdevig said perhaps the city needs to consider spending more of the $2 million in remaining unused COVID-19 funds the city received from the federal government.

"Yes, a budget is hard work," Gjerdevig said. "But, the No. 1 job that we have as a commission is the budget. We have a responsibility to try."

Fisk said the federal COVID-19 funding does not have many restrictions as to how it can be used by the city, unlike state COVID-19 aid. But, the city staff did not want to spend the money immediately in case the City Commission found projects down the road.

"We didn't want to just use it all up at one time and then have something come along that is a good project that you would like to do," Fisk said.

"It's a damn good budget and you worked your butts off," Commissioner Mark Simmons said. "There is nowhere to cut."

Commissioner Brad Olson said putting off items such as training is just "kicking it down the road."

The commission voted to leave the preliminary 2022 budget as it was set, with a 4.5 mill increase. Only Gjerdevig voted against refusing the changes.

An increase of 4.5 mills is 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 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.

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 $335,216 to $650,149.

The final budget hearing will be held this month. The budget must be submitted to Cass County by Oct. 10.