County Budget Hits $105 Million

Property taxes to increase by 1.8 percent to fund capital-improvement levies

By Molly Priddy
The historic Flathead County Courthouse building on Main Street in downtown Kalispell. Beacon File Photo

The Flathead County Commission is expected to approve a $105.2 million budget on Aug. 26, accounting for nearly $18.7 million in capital improvement projects and 18 additional full-time county employees.

According to county administrator Mike Pence, Flathead County started out with a balance of $52.2 million for fiscal year 2016, and now that the state tax projections are in, expects $97.8 million in total revenue, tax and non-tax.

As for cash reserves, the county is expected to have $12.3 million at the end of FY 2016, equaling about 23 percent of the county’s beginning balance. State law allows for cash reserves up to 33 percent.

Personnel costs continue to be a major portion of the total county budget, Pence said in a memo to the commissioners, with a 1.6 percent cost-of-living adjustment for county employees, or roughly $343,223.

The county also added 18 full-time equivalent employees in the last fiscal year, now sitting at 524.

Pence also noted that the county continues to maximize levied dollars within its legal authority to save over multiple years for an adult detention facility expansion project, which was started about 11 years ago with a $14 million price tag.

This means the county, under the direction of the commission, will levy to the maximum legal ability, and this tax revenue will be earmarked for the capital improvement program for the new jail. Pence said it should generate about $10 million.

If the county continues to receive Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) money, some of that could be funneled toward the project, which could potentially see hitting the $14 million mark in seven years.

There is another $3 million included in the budget, transferred from the general fund cash balance, to fund the “likely” purchase of the Walmart property in Evergreen to use as a public safety facility, which would include the jail.

Pence also mentioned the $3 million community gym project proposed by the county Parks Department. About half of the project will need to be funded in order to receive $1.5 million in a required match raised by private donations.

By maximizing the tax levies, they will increase from 151.64 mills last year to 171.34 mills, equaling a 13 percent increase. However, Pence said the large increase was due to a 9 percent reduction in total valuation, and doesn’t show the actual tax increases for taxpayers.

A countywide mill is now worth $222,339 compared to $246,736. The total property tax for FY 2016 is $35,336,663, a 1.8 percent increase over the previous year’s $34,713,757.

“This 1.8 percent increase is the actual tax increase that is calculated with the formula provided by the State of Montana as approved by the legislature and the Governor,” Pence wrote in his memo.

In plain terms, this means anyone owning a $200,000 property would see an increase of about $7.56 in county taxes, and a $100,000 property would see an additional $3.78 in county taxes.

“In reality, many of our taxpayers will see no increase in county property taxes as property added with new construction will cover most of the 1.8 percent actual increase in county property taxes,” Pence said.

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