Flathead County Commission Approves 2021 Budget

Commissioners voted 2-1 to approve $118.3 million budget at Sept. 1 meeting

By Micah Drew
Flathead County Courthouse. Beacon file photo

The Flathead County Commission approved a $118.3 million budget during its Sept. 1 meeting. The vote passed 2-1 with Commissioner Randy Brodehl opposing the budget due to “philosophical differences.”

No members of the public spoke at the public hearing about the proposed budget, which is an increase of 19.2% over fiscal year 2020. The approved appropriation for all funds in fiscal year 2021 is $13 million higher than was initially proposed in June.

A large portion of the expenditure budget includes $14 million for the capital improvement program (CIP), up $6 million from the previous year. The CIP includes $50,000 for public health, $107,000 for culture and recreation, $677,000 for public safety, $3 million for public works, $3.2 million for solid waste and $6.4 million for general government.

Among the specific CIP programs are the renovation and remodeling of the recently purchased CenturyLink building and the Courthouse West building. The road department will be constructing three salt sand buildings, upgrading two gravel pits and rebuilding West Valley Drive. The solid waste district will complete Phase Three of the “Entryway” project, which will include the landfill green box site that provides cardboard, recycling and waste oil recovery. In addition, a project to separate wash water from cleaning solid waste equipment from storm water, a Montana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) requirement, is budgeted, as are other site improvements.

The budget also includes a 3% cost-of-living adjustment for county employees, longevity and step increases, and an increase to the state retirement program.

County Administrator Mike Pence noted during his budget presentation that the county is maintaining adequate cash balances, especially the operating cash balance for the self-insured medical benefit program.

According to new valuation numbers released by the Montana Department of Revenue, the total taxable value for the county increased 7%, up to $385.9 million, with an equivalent 7% increase in total property tax for the county.

The proposed tax levy will increase 1.35 mills compared to last year. For a property assessed at $200,000, this will represent a tax increase of approximately $4.70.

During the discussion on the budget, Commissioner Pam Holmquist expressed some hesitations.

“I don’t know if I can vote for the budget this year, even though I support a majority of it,” Holmquist said. “It helps me that we’ve committed to increase contributions to the detention facility, which will probably be the largest infrastructure project we will ever have to address.”

Brodehl also expressed some philosophical differences with the budget, but praised the efforts of the staff who worked to compile it.

The budget passed with Holmquist and Commissioner Phil Mitchell in favor, and Brodehl in opposition.

Also at the Sept. 1 meeting, the commissioners unanimously approved the budgets for the Hungry Horse, Evergreen, Silver Shadow and Bigfork lighting districts and the Hungry Horse rural fire district, as well as the county schools budget.

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