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Flathead County budget reflects decrease for taxpayers

by HEIDI DESCH
Daily Inter Lake | September 6, 2023 12:00 AM

Flathead County commissioners on Thursday approved a final budget that includes a $2.8 million increase in tax collections while reducing overall spending when compared to the previous year.

Roughly half the increase in collections or $1.4 million is attributed to newly added properties entering the tax roll, County Administrator Pete Melnick noted in his budget memo.

“These new dwellings and neighbors not only contribute to the general welfare of Flathead County, they also ease the overall tax burden for all residents,” he said.

The budget totals $115.8 million for fiscal year 2024, which is a 2% reduction in spending from the fiscal year 2023 budget of $118.3 million.

Taxpayers with a property valued at $100,000 should see an estimated decrease in their county tax bill of about $57 depending on their actual taxable valuation set by the state Department of Revenue. While a $300,000 market rate home should see a roughly $164 decrease and a $600,000 home should see a decrease of about $328.

The county will levy 103.34 mills, a decrease from the 143.86 mills of the previous year.

While the county will levy fewer mills, the value of its mills appreciated significantly over the previous year. The value of a mill saw a 46% increase.

Commissioners praised county departments for continuing to “hold the line” — a phrase they often repeat in seeking to be financially conservative in budget spending.

“We are such a great family with all the staff and department heads,” Commissioner Pam Holmquist said. “Thank you for holding the line. The citizens can be proud of what we have here.”

Commissioner Randy Brodehl echoed the sentiment saying the budget “reflects who the county is.”

Commissioner Brad Abell said that county staff are taxpayers also and they take that into account when creating a sound budget.

“When I came into office I was surprised at just how good the county is with its finances,” he said.

THE COUNTY is not levying all the mills available to it. It is leaving 5.47 mills untaxed for the countywide levy that funds most of its operations, which equates to $2.7 million.

The budget calls for investing about $12.3 million into its capital improvement program. This compares with $14 million in the previous year.

The budget includes nearly $900,000 for culture and recreation, $1.2 in general government, $3.6 million for public safety, $4.2 million for public works and $2 million for solid waste.

Major investments worth noting, Melnick said, are $250,000 to go toward the future replacement of the ImagineIF Libraries Kalispell branch, $50,000 toward the parks department for a future replacement to Conrad Field and $2.5 million toward a future replacement of the Flathead County Detention Center.

“As we continue to address community needs, we also recognize the call for investments in key physical infrastructure that keep our county moving forward,” Melnick said.

Saying that public safety stands as a “foremost governmental priority” Melnick pointed out that the county added two additional deputy county attorneys and increased wages for those positions to help with recruitment and retention.

Regarding personnel, the county has 557 employees. The budget includes a 4% cost of living adjustment for employees which totals $1.2 million.

When he was hired two years ago, Melnick said, the county had a vacancy rate of over 12% and now the county has a vacancy rate of a “manageable” 6%.

In terms of reserves, the county’s cash reserve funds supported by property tax dollars are projected to total $20.3 million at the end of the fiscal year. This is about 27%.

Features Editor Heidi Desch may be reached at 758-4421 or hdesch@dailyinterlake.com.