New County Budget Calls for Saving for New Jail

Commission expected to approve budget on Aug. 28

By Molly Priddy

The Flathead County Commission is expected to approve a $102.3 million budget for fiscal year 2015 on Aug. 28, with increases in mill levies expected to allow the county to start saving the money needed for a jail expansion.

According to county administrator Mike Pence, the mill levy increase will amount to the county levying a total of 151.64 mills, a 2.5 percent increase from the FY 2014 budget.

That would mean a county tax increase of about $9.58 for a person with a house worth $200,000, and $4.79 for a person with a $100,000 house.

Pence said the county commission asked to pursue the maximum levies in order to start a seven-year saving process that would eventually pay for the long-discussed adult detention center expansion.

A new jail, which has been on the backburner for about 10 years, would cost roughly $14 million according to estimates on the project a few years ago, Pence said.

With maximized levies, the county could put away $10 million in seven years, Pence said, and the additional $4 million could come from Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) funding, if Congress continues the PILT program.

The county would also like to eventually pursue a community gymnasium project for the Parks Department, Pence said. It would cost $3 million, with the county proposing to pay for half and getting the other half in matched community donations.

Pence pointed out that the commission is not bound to this funding plan by approving the 2015 budget. There would have to be an annual decision to keep maximizing the levies to fund these projects, and if more pressing needs arise, the projects could take a backseat, he said.

The proposed FY 2015 budget shows a beginning balance of $55.3 million, with the county expecting to earn $96.9 million in tax revenue, with expenditures at $102.3 million. That leaves a projected ending balance of $49.9 million.

Flathead County will have 540 full-time employees in the new budget, compared to the 525 in the 2014 budget. The budget also accounts for a 1.5 percent cost-of-living adjustment for county employees, as well as longevity and step payment increases as outlined in county policies and union contracts.

The total wage increase adds $238,878 to the new budget.

The capital improvement program (CIP) will total $14,550,879, compared to $10,242,434 last year. This program includes financing for projects in: culture and recreation ($1,156,413); general government ($7,311,555); public health ($30,000); public safety ($772,711); public works ($671,500); social and economic services ($164,000); and solid waste ($4,444,700).

In addition to those CIP expenditures, the county will provided funding by transfers in the total amount o f $16,198,370 for CIP needs in the future, compared to $5,254,626 in 2014.

The total market value of the county increased to $10.46 billion, and the actual total property tax for FY 2015 is $35,700,701, a 4.8 percent increase from 2014. A county mill is now worth $246,736, up 2 percent from the previous year.

The commission is expected to approve the budget during its Aug. 28 hearing, taking place at 9:30 a.m.

Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup.

Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox.