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County budget calls for reduction in spending

by CHAD SOKOL
Daily Inter Lake | June 30, 2021 1:00 AM

The Flathead County commissioners were scheduled to vote Tuesday on a preliminary operating budget for the 2021-22 fiscal year that would reduce spending by about 2.1%.

The proposed budget totals about $115.8 million, smaller than the current budget of $118.3 million primarily because the county no longer runs a health clinic.

The Flathead Community Health Center, established in 2007 as a division of the Flathead City-County Health Department, spun off at the end of last month to operate as a private nonprofit with a new name: the Greater Valley Health Center.

The clinic's budget under county management was about $5.9 million. But the county also recently took over management of the Flathead Emergency Communications Center, after voters in November passed a ballot measure changing the funding structure for local 911 service. That brought the total reduction in the proposed operating budget for the next fiscal year to about $2.48 million.

The proposed budget also includes a $2 million increase in capital expenditures, a $170,000 increase for bridge maintenance, a $441,000 increase for a planned expansion of the county animal shelter, a $249,000 increase for administering elections and a $1.2 million increase for solid waste disposal.

The county would spend about $1.3 million less on roads due to fewer planned capital improvement projects.

The proposed budget includes funding for three major building projects planned during the next fiscal year — $2 million for an ongoing expansion of the county landfill; $750,000 to start a remodel of Courthouse West, which houses the county Motor Vehicles Department; and $5.2 million for the ongoing remodel of the North Campus Building, the future home of the county Treasurer's Office, the county Superintendent of Schools Office, the Motor Vehicles Department, the Accounting Department, the Election Department and Family Court Services.

The commissioners have approved a 2% cost-of-living increase for the county's 539 employees. With the addition of the equivalent of 5.73 new positions during the next fiscal year, that will amount to a payroll increase of roughly $1.4 million.

The new positions would include a full-time land specialist in the county's plat room, a full-time finance technician, a full-time coroner, and a half-time code compliance technician in the Planning and Zoning Department. Other new part-time jobs with the county would include a seasonal environmental health program assistant, a seasonal mosquito technician, a landfill attendant and a container site monitor.

The commissioners also will vote Tuesday on a five-year capital improvement plan and formally accept pandemic relief and economic stimulus funding from the American Rescue Plan that Congress passed in March. Amy Dexter, the county's finance director, said that includes nearly $20.2 million in direct support, and nearly $4.4 million earmarked for water and sewer projects.

The commissioners will vote on the preliminary budget capital improvement plan at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday. Public comment will be taken from 8:45 to 9 a.m.

The commissioners will hold a final budget vote in August, after the Montana Department of Revenue provides property tax assessments and the county calculates its mill values.