The Flathead County Commission on June 29 unanimously passed a $126.8 million preliminary expenditure budget for the 2024 fiscal year, boosting county spending by more than 10% compared to last year’s budget of $114.5 million.
The budget took effect on July 1 and will face final approval in August after the Montana Department of Revenue releases the county’s taxable valuation numbers. The county expects an annual revenue of at least $109.6 million.
“That does assume the worst case scenario for the county. There’s no new taxes in here,” said Flathead County Finance Department Director Amy Dexter. “That revenue part will change as we get close to having our numbers in August.”
The increase in the county’s expenditures for the next fiscal year includes roughly $12 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds the county received for water and sewer-related projects, including a future regional septage facility. The county received $10 million in ARPA funding that is expected to provide base funding for the septage facility construction, as well as another $2 million in ARPA money from the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation to be used for other county-wide water and sewer infrastructure projects.
The preliminary budget also allots pay raises for various county officials. On May 24, the commissioners approved a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) for nine elected officials, as well as all county employees. A 4% salary increase will apply to the Clerk of the District Court, Treasurer/Assessor, Justices of the Peace, Clerk/Recorder/Surveyor, County Commissioners, Sheriff/Coroner, and Superintendent of Schools. Additional increases were approved for the county attorney’s office — 8% for the county attorney and a 9% increase for deputy county attorneys specifically aimed at addressing hiring and employee retention in the department.
Once the county’s taxable valuation numbers are released in August, the county commissioners will hear public comment prior to formally adopting the budget in its final form. The proposed mill levy for FY2024 is 145.64, a 1.2% increase from last year’s 143.86 mills, due to the county’s decision to increase the health levy to its maximum amount. The county projects it will have 22.6% in cash reserves in funds supported by property tax dollars, less than the 33% allowed by state law.
The county commissioners also unanimously passed a capital improvement plan (CIP) budget for FY2024-2028 of $12.3 million, a decrease from last year’s CIP budget of $14 million. The decrease is due to several construction projects to remodel county buildings reaching completion, according to Dexter.
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