BOZEMAN — The Montana Board of Livestock has approved plans to leave a dozen jobs unfilled, increase fees and ask the state for more money to avoid a potential $400,000 budget shortfall.
The board approved the changes Monday so the Livestock Department could meet a Friday deadline for submitting a balanced budget, the Bozeman Daily Chronicle reported.
DOL executive director Christian McKay said the cost of the department’s animal health programs and enforcing livestock laws was $177,000 more than the per-capita fees collected, mostly due to expenses for brucellosis testing of cattle in areas around Yellowstone National Park. He said Tuesday the agency also lacked about $233,000 for a pay increase approved by the legislature.
The board voted Monday to increase lab fees by 5 percent, brand inspection fees from 75 cents to $1, and per-capital fees by 10 percent of the average rate over the past three years, which is the maximum amount allowed by law.
For cattle over 9 months of age, the rate would increase from $2.10 per head to $2.30 per head, McKay said. Fees are also charged for horses, bison, sheep, goats, pigs, poultry and bees.
The board also is asking the state for another $850,000 to support its lab, arguing a large part of its work is done for public health. The lab already receives $289,000 from the state general fund.
Leaving the 12 jobs unfilled will save about $350,000 over a fiscal year, McKay said. Four of those jobs have come open since July.
Industry leaders were generally supportive, although some objected to some of the fee increases. They did insist the board institute better budget oversight.
“This problem was eight months in the making, and I feel it’s poor management that it’s right down to the last possible second that we had to make this decision,” said Greg Wichman, vice president of the Montana Wool Growers Association.
The public has 30 days to comment on the proposal.
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