County Approves $81.2 Million Budget for 2014

By Beacon Staff

The Flathead County Commission unanimously approved the county’s $81.2 million budget for fiscal year 2014 on Thursday, making a 2 percent increase in county spending official.

County Administrator Mike Pence presented the 2014 budget to the commission for an Aug. 28 public hearing, attended mostly by county department directors and managers.

Flathead County is expected to bring in about $79.9 million in revenue for the next fiscal year, and is projected to spend $81.2 million. The county will start fiscal year 2014 with a $37 million balance, and the projected ending balance for the next fiscal year is about $35.7 million.

Personnel costs represent a major chunk of the county budget, Pence noted, and this year county employees received a 3.5 percent cost-of-living adjustment (COLA), while elected officials and deputies received a 3 percent increase.
The budget also funds longevity increases, which include either 1 percent for public safety employees as prescribed by state law or 0.5 percent for all other county employees after five years of working for the county. Also included were increases for union contracts, as well as an additional 1 percent budgeted for the employee retirement program.

Flathead County has 525 full-time employees, an increase of three over 522 the previous year.

Another large piece of the budget is the capital improvement program, which totals $7,514,749 compared to fiscal year 2013’s $5,089,191.

Differences in the federal payment in lieu of taxes (PILT) fund are “significant items of note,” Pence said, because the county moved certain items that were funded through PILT, such as a the Agency on Aging rental, software maintenance and other items to the general fund.

The only line item regularly funded with PILT money is $500,000 for the road fund, Pence said.

“Most of our PILT funds are planned to be used for one time capital improvement needs and some are earmarked in our five year Capital Improvement Plan,” Pence wrote in a memo about the 2014 budget.

The county’s total market value increase from $9.32 to billion to $9.93 billion, according to the Montana Department of Revenue. The new taxable value was certified at $251.3 million, a 2.9 percent increase from the previous year’s $244.1 million.

Flathead County’s proposed tax levy is expected to drop by 1.18 mills, Pence said, from 149.16 mills to 147.98 mills. The actual total in property taxes the county expected in 2014 – the largest source of revenue for the county – is $34,076,216. That’s an increase over last year’s $33,366,622, Pence noted.

The county’s cash reserve funded by property tax dollars is expected to be $11.8 million, or about 24 percent; state law allows 33 percent of cash reserves to be funded by property taxes.

Pence said he believed the 2014 budget honored the commission’s directive to only increase expenditures by 2 percent across the board. The commissioners – Pam Holmquist, Gary Krueger and Cal Scott – all agreed the budget stayed largely on track with that goal, and commended the county department heads on their work to do so.

“We have a wonderful staff and we appreciate all of you holding the line,” Holmquist said.

The commission voted 3-0 to approve the budget.