Commissioners OK $105.2M preliminary budget

| July 15, 2020 1:00 AM

The Flathead County Commissioners recently approved a $105.2 million preliminary budget for Flathead County for fiscal year 2021, which began on July 1.

The preliminary budget gives managers and elected officials the authority to spend money and fund their departments before approval of the final budget. The commissioners will hold a public hearing and discussion before voting to approve the official fiscal year 2021 budget sometime in late August.

Commissioners Randy Brodehl and Phil Mitchell voted to approve the preliminary budget and Commissioner Pam Holmquist voted not to approve it. Holmquist said she “has a lot of concerns about the budgeting process,” and said she does not agree with her fellow commissioners on some of the proposed budget increases.

The total preliminary expenditure budget is a $6 million increase from the county’s $99.2 million expenditure budget for fiscal year 2020. According to County Administrator Mike Pence, about $1 million of that bump can be attributed to a recently approved 3% cost-of-living raise for the county’s 540 employees.

Holmquist voted against the cost-of-living raise in late May. At the time, she said the county’s usual salary increase of 1.8% to 2% would be more appropriate and that she wanted to see those additional funds invested elsewhere.

But during last week’s meeting, Mitchell said the county is “minorly starting to lose people.” He did not elaborate on that statement, but said the raise is “to make sure that the people who work here are happy.”

Aside from the cost-of-living raise, money transfers make up about $2.1 million of the preliminary budget increase, with about $1.85 million transferring to the county’s capital improvement program.

According to Pence, there are two capital projects planned for fiscal year 2021. One is the construction of three new buildings for storing salt and sand for the rebuild of West Valley Drive that will cost approximately $1.2 million. The other is the continuation of construction at the entryway of the Flathead County Landfill that will cost about $1.1 million.

Other increases outlined in the proposal include $706,000 to the road operating budget, about $162,000 for the information technology budget and $115,000 for the Flathead City-County Health Department.

The Flathead County Sheriff’s Office is also poised to receive a $270,000 increase an amount Pence said can be primarily contributed to union negotiations that led to an increase in patrolling hours by sheriff’s deputies. An additional $239,000 would go toward paying for juvenile detention as well. Pence recently said the county is experiencing an increase in the number of juveniles sentenced to time in detention and therefore, the county is budgeting for that increase.

Not included in the preliminary budget is the county’s proposed $6 million plan for office relocation and expansion. That figure would include the purchase of the vacant CenturyLink building in Kalispell and the creation of additional courtrooms for the Justice and District courts. The commissioners are expected to discuss and vote on the proposal in the coming week.