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Pennington County Commissioner Mark DiSanto expressed concern Tuesday about the size of the 2020 provisional budget and asked the county auditor to calculate the impact of eliminating cost-of-living raises for county employees.

“I’ve been going over the budget over and over and over again, and the tremendous increase we’ve had in the budget is a lot,” DiSanto said during a regularly scheduled commission meeting at the county’s Administration Building.

DiSanto said he is OK with including stepped pay increases in the budget, which are the scheduled raises employees receive as they gain experience. But he questioned the need for cost-of-living raises, which are intended to help employees’ earnings keep pace with inflation. He said the current national inflation rate is "practically nothing.”

A popular measure of inflation is the Consumer Price Index, which is published by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The bureau’s most recent report said the non-seasonally adjusted Consumer Price Index for all items rose 1.6 percent during the 12 months ending in June. Data for July are scheduled to be published next week.

The County Commission unanimously approved its provisional 2020 budget last month, although DiSanto expressed reservations about the budget before casting his "yes" vote. Changes to the budget could still be made before the Oct. 1 deadline to pass a final budget.

The total provisional budget for 2020 is $103.97 million, which is about 10 percent higher than the 2019 budget of $94.72 million.

At past commission meetings, county officials blamed the projected budget increase on weather-related damages to county infrastructure this year from blizzards and flooding, and on rising law enforcement and criminal justice costs stemming from increased meth use in the county.

Another substantial increase in the provisional budget is within the road and bridge fund, which would increase from $10.07 million in 2019 to $14.59 million in 2020. That increase includes money designated for major projects such as a reconstruction of Sheridan Lake Road and the conversion of South Rochford Road from gravel to pavement.

The provisional 2020 budget would raise a hypothetical county property owner's taxes by $4.80 per $100,000 of valuation. 

In response to DiSanto’s comments Tuesday about the provisional budget, County Auditor Cindy Mohler said she will prepare information about the potential savings from eliminating cost-of-living raises. The commission is scheduled to meet again next Tuesday.

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Contact Seth Tupper at seth.tupper@rapidcityjournal.com

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