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Flathead County budget looks at the ‘long game’

by Pamela Holmquist, Brad Abell and Randy Brodehl
| September 18, 2022 12:00 AM

In effort to add clarity and transparency to the Flathead County FY23 Budget, we offer the following account of our stewardship decisions:

Sheriff’s Department

We increased the sheriff’s budget by 15% for this current fiscal year.

The sheriff requested 10 positions. We funded four with the option to reexamine two others once a deeper analysis is completed for evaluating inflation impacts on county operations.

These four positions include funding for two Internet Crimes Against Children deputies for which grant funding expired, a deputy immediately, and a corrections officer.

The sheriff continues to struggle with staffing shortages, as does the rest of our community.

We are deeply concerned about the Sheriff’s Office detention facility and the challenges and staffing shortages they are facing. We stand ready to assist with those challenges and hope that the Detention Union will choose to restart their conversations with us.

Should the 3% local marijuana sales tax be approved by the voters in November, the commissioners will apply the increased revenue where it is needed most - including public safety.

Landfill

The landfill increased their staff by six employees.

Landfill funds are generated with user fees – not your tax dollars. The Sheriff’s Office is funded through the county general fund. By law, we cannot transfer landfill funds to the general fund.

Fairgrounds

We approved an events and sponsorship coordinator. This position is funded through sales of sponsorships.

Clerk of Court

.75 FTE to prepare for the addition of a new judge next year.

Property tax assessments

Property owners will see an increase of $0.26 for every $100,000 in value. For instance, a home valued at $800,000 will see a $2.08 increase in their county taxes.

Montana Code Annotated 15-10-420 authorizes local governments a mill levy sufficient to generate the amount of property taxes actually assessed in the prior years plus one-half of the average rate of inflation for the prior three years.

For example, if the cost of living averaged 3% during the last three years we could only increase taxes by 1.5%. In this case the cost of living increased by 8.5% and we could only increase taxes by 1.77%.

Only completed new construction can increase tax revenue, not new residents.

Mills not taxed

Our budget process began nearly seven months ago when the county was paying $5.00 for a gallon of gas, food scarcity was being discussed among county households, and prospective employees could not find housing.

When the 911 Center bond passed in 2020, we promised to remove the mills to fund the 911 Center. As we examined those mills this year, we decided to do the same as we did last year in an effort to help our communities cope with record inflation. We intend to keep that promise unless you free us from our commitment.

Our role is to keep doing what we do best. That is to keep a steady hand on the tiller, play the long game, not panic, and work with the elected officials and department heads to provide service delivery with the precious funds we have. In the meantime — ask us the hard questions. Our doors are always open and we welcome opportunities to visit with you.

Flathead County Commissioners Pamela Holmquist, Brad Abell and Randy Brodehl.

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