County Budget Freezes Spending for 2019

Preliminary budget for Flathead County eliminates 10.7 jobs

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

The 2019 Flathead County preliminary budget proposes cutting nearly 11 full-time employees from the county’s payroll in a move to stave off the increasing costs of health insurance.

The county’s preliminary budget was approved unanimously by the Flathead County Commission on June 28, and will receive final approval later in the fall.

According to County Administrator Mike Pence, the county faced a considerable challenge with “significant increases” in the cost of health insurance, which led to the county asking its department heads to freeze operational-cost budgets.

A freeze on operational costs, along with cutting 10.7 full-time equivalent positions within the county, Pence said the county was able to balance its budget. Eliminating those jobs saved the county $647,856. Of the 10.7 equivalent positions, seven were eliminated from the county’s Detention Center.

The county proposes spending $90,585,095 in fiscal year 2019, a slight increase over the 2018 budget of $90,276,465. The additional $308,630 accounts for longevity costs, as well as the county’s decision to provide a 2.1 percent cost-of-living increase for employees.

Freezing the budget in 2019 is possible, Pence said, because the county isn’t taking on any major infrastructure or building projects. In recent years, the budgets have included projects such as renovating the historic county courthouse building, renovating the jail space in the building behind the courthouse, adding new jail space in an expansion, and building the South Campus Building.

The 2017 budget included more than $10.4 million in capital improvement projects, and 2018 added $8 million more.

Pence said the budget should balance, but the county hasn’t yet received new property valuation numbers from the Department of Revenue. The county estimated tax revenue would increase by 2 percent in fiscal year 2019, which Pence said would leave the county with “healthy” cash reserves. However, the county expects to spend $631,913 out of the reserves for tax levy funds.

Valuation numbers from the Department of Revenue should arrive in early August, and the Flathead County Commission will vote on the final budget for fiscal year 2019 in the fall.

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