The Lincoln County Commissioners have decided to let local residents determine the fate of the Troy Area Dispatch, which has been at the center of a debate about the rural county’s budget woes. Voters will decide to either preserve or dissolve the emergency services dispatching center during the June election.
“We all felt that it was only fair to have it go to a vote,” Commissioner Ron Downey said. “The residents of Troy voted it in and they can vote it out.”
The Troy Area Dispatch budget, which amounts to about $250,000 annually, came under scrutiny last year when county officials realized they had been overtaxing residents to the tune of $2.2 million. The department that benefited the most from that money was the Troy Area Dispatch.
Late last year, someone noticed the county had allowed 56.86 mills to be levied for the Troy Area Dispatch, when it should have been 31.91 mills. The mills are supposed to rise with inflation. Instead, upon further inspection, the county realized that taxes were inflating above and beyond that level. The error happened sometime around 2009 when the county clerk and recording was calculating tax data that determines how many mills could be levied in each district. Instead of entering the gross proceeds money received from the Troy Mine, the clerk entered the taxable value of that money and that resulted in the mill levies exceeding their limits.
Since the mistake was realized, the county budgets have been audited and the true mill levy numbers have been discovered. However, because the county must pay back the $2.2 million it overtaxed, officials are frantically looking for ways to make cuts, including dissolving the Troy Area Dispatch. If it were closed, emergency-dispatching services in the Troy area would be combined with the county dispatch in Libby. According to Lincoln County Sheriff Roby Bowe, his office can offer the same services for about $10,000 annually. But Troy Area Dispatch member Gene Rogers said closing the dispatch center doesn’t make sense, especially since it was recently refurbished. He also worries about the six people who would lose their jobs if the dispatch center were to close.
Even if Troy residents decide to close their local dispatch center, the county has to dig deep to balance its shrinking budget and officials recently said it could take up to five years to repay everyone following the county’s $2.2 million mistake.
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