County approves budget including building projects

by KIANNA GARDNER
Daily Inter Lake | September 9, 2020 1:00 AM

The Flathead County commissioners voted Tuesday to approve the county’s final budget for fiscal year 2021, which includes about $118 million in total expenditures and nearly $114 million in total tax and non-tax revenues.

According to a written budget message from county Administrator Mike Pence, the expenditure budget includes about $14 million for the capital improvement program (CIP), compared to about $8.2 million last year. The CIP budget includes Culture and Recreation, General Government, Public Health, Public Safety, Public Works, Social and Economic Services and Solid Waste.

In addition to those expenditures, the county has also provided about $12.1 million in funding transfers for future capital needs. That’s compared to about $3.7 million last year.

The budget includes funding to complete major renovation and remodel projects at the recently purchased CenturyLink building and the Courthouse West building — two projects that will address county space needs.

The CenturyLink building, purchased for $720,000 earlier this summer, will house the Treasurer, Election, Superintendent of Schools and Family Court Services offices after the facility undergoes a $3.8 million remodel.

An additional $500,00 has been budgeted for a portion of the Courthouse West facility project that will house the Justice Court offices and courtrooms. The remodel is expected to wrap up in the following fiscal year period with additional funding of $958,000.

Personnel costs for the county represent a major portion of the county budget as well.

The county has 542.02 full-time equivalent (FTE) employees, which is just a slight increase from last year. Additional FTE in the 2021 budget include 0.15 for an Animal Shelter Administrative Assistant, 0.5 Custodian, 1 Registered Sanitarian and a .667 Landfill Attendant. Pence’s message added “there were numerous reductions made to the Health Clinic staff.”

There is a 3% cost-of-living adjustment for county personnel included in the budget this year, which is about $812,000. For all county employees, with the exception of sheriff’s office deputies, there is an additional 0.1% budgeted for the state’s retirement program as well.

The proposed tax levy in the budget is 162.18 mills, which is about a 1.35 mill increase from last year.

According to Pence, this increase is largely due to higher valuations provided by the Montana Department of Revenue. State law limits tax levy increases to half of the average cost-of-living numbers for the previous three years, “based on a formula created by the state of Montana as authorized by the Legislature.”

The value of a county-wide mill is now $285,935 compared to $265,502 last year. Assuming no change in taxable value, a calculation of the impact to a taxpayer with a $200,000 market value property would be approximately a $4.70 increase in county taxes. For a $100,000 market value it would be approximately a $2.35 increase.

Commissioners Pam Holmquist and Phil Mitchell voted in favor of the budget, while Commissioner Randy Brodehl voted against adopting the budget.

“Our staff has done a great job at putting this together,” Brodehl said. “My concern is we have a lot of issues that are unknowns in our county right now. Some people don’t know if they are going to have a job in a month, there are businesses that have closed. Because of the unknowns, I think we should be holding the budget flat.”