Commission Gives Initial Approval to $99 Million in County Spending

County expenditures expected to increase nearly 8 percent from last year's budget

By Molly Priddy

The Flathead County Commission unanimously passed its fiscal year 2020 preliminary budget, setting the county up to spend almost $99 million.

“We are a very conservative county,” said Commissioner Phil Mitchell. “We live within our means.”

The June 26 vote gave preliminary approval for the fiscal year 2020 budget, and allows the county to start spending when the fiscal year begins in July. The county’s final budget approval will happen in August, after the state Department of Revenue can provide the county’s taxable valuation numbers.

The FY 2020 budget of $98,632,200 increases county spending by nearly 8 percent over FY 2019’s budget of $91,483,528. Spending increases include bumping the county payroll by $2.8 million, planning for $1.8 million in capital expenditures, $1.3 million in increased insurance costs, and a $778,000 increase in the Solid Waste Department’s budget. Other increases are due to grant funding, County Administrator Mike Pence said.

The nearly $3 million increase in county payroll is the result of the commission approving a 2.4 percent cost-of-living adjustment for the county’s 540 employees. Cost-of-living adjustments (COLA) are made to counteract the effects of inflation; the U.S. Social Security Administration determined that the general cost-of-living adjustment for 2018 was 2.8 percent for Social Security and SSI benefits.

Within the budget are 3.9 new full-time equivalent positions, include 0.4 positions for the GIS Department, 0.5 for Justice Court, and three positions for the Sheriff’s Office. The positions within the sheriff’s office include two school resource officers — which are funded by the county, Flathead Electric Cooperative, and the Evergreen and Bigfork school districts — and one pretrial services program employee.

The two large-scale capital projects for FY 2020 include a $2 million Solid Waste project on the landfill entrance and scales, and building three sand/salt buildings for the Road Department, for a total of $458,000.

The commission also voted on June 26 to adopt the Capital Improvement Program (CIP) numbers for 2020-2024, moving forward with the board’s idea to remove all ImagineIF Library projects from the CIP.

In August, after the county receives the county’s valuation numbers, the budget can be finalized with revenue numbers and calculated mill levies to determine property taxes. The commission will hold another hearing for final budget approval in late August.