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Williams County is projecting a 2021 General Fund budget that is $26.1 million — $19.6 million less than its projected $45.29 million 2020 budget, with six-figure decreases across multiple departments.

The decreases reflect deferred equipment upgrades and the consolidation of positions, as well as unfilled vacancies.

In the Auditor’s Office, for example, expenses are projected to decrease by $131,943. Two long-term employees have left the department, and were replaced with one new, lower-paid position.

In Development Services, the county will save $165,000 by leaving two positions vacant, and the IT Department will save $327,763 by putting off system upgrades and equipment replacement until a later time.

In the Sheriff’s Department, $303,291 will be saved by reducing and/or eliminating some equipment purchases, and the department will put off replacing two patrol cars that were scheduled for 2021.

Finance is one of the only departments to show a substantial increase, of $121,154. That reflects reallocation of one position from the Auditor’s Office into finance, plus increased audit fees.

Even so, the projections show the county will need to either increase its tax levy an estimated $771,000 to cover projected expenses, or use cash reserves to lower the levy amount.

That’s a direction that will be shaped in the coming days as Williams County Commissioners conduct budget hearings to examine the budget requests department by department, and discuss how best to grapple with a pandemic-induced downturn in tax revenues.

“There is nothing final about our levy amount,” Helen Askim, Communications, HR and Director of GIS stressed. “Kristi shows that amount as a levy increase only so Commissioners can see the possibility. This is a moving target until the Commissioners finalize the 2021 budget requests.”

During the budget hearing on Monday, commissioners discussed things like centralizing equipment such as copiers, as well as the ins and outs of potentially centralizing its fleet of vehicles.

The latter would have several cost-saving advantages, including better tracking of necessary maintenance and the ability to spread use around, so that one vehicle isn’t getting hammered while another is hardly ever used.

Some county employees might only need a vehicle now and then, or on a seasonal basis. A centralized system would allow those vehicles to be used by others when they would ordinarily not be used at all. That way departments would not need to purchase a vehicle for perhaps limited travel needs.

Positions that can be shared among departments were also discussed, such as Williston Vector Control and the Williams County Weed Board, which will be sharing an administrative person.

Neither department has enough work to keep an administrative person busy for a full-time work week, Askim told commissioners. By combining the two positions, which are in the same building, into one position, costs are not only halved for each, but efficiencies are gained.

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