County budget process underway, preliminary budget to be adopted in late June
The budget process is underway in Cascade County.
The County Commission will be reviewing and adopting a preliminary budget in late June to keep county operations running when the new fiscal year starts July 1, but that budget won’t be finalized until early September.
Department heads develop their budgets and made their first presentations to commissioners throughout April. Commissioners give feedback and department heads make a second presentation by May 18, according to this year’s budget schedule.
There has been “good dialogue” during those budget discussions, according to Mary Embleton, the county budget officer.
The county, like the City of Great Falls, won’t receive their certified taxable values from the Montana Department of Revenue until late July and mill levies and the final budget can’t be set without those values.
“Then it’s a scramble,” Embleton said, to run the numbers, determining the tax limitations, tax increment financing figures and others, in time to begin public hearings on the budget in late August and adopt the final budget and set the property tax amounts.
The state has already set the inflationary factor, which is the amount the county can increase taxes over last year. For Cascade County for the upcoming fiscal year, that rate is 0.82 percent.
“We are limited to the tax revenues,” Embleton said. “When we budget, we budget for about a 95 percent collection of those revenues. We know that not everyone pays their taxes, so we budget conservatively.”
Some property taxes will also be tied up in tax appeals and protests, such as Calumet Montana Refining.
Calumet protested their 2017 taxable value from the Montana Department of Revenue that set the amount at $538 million.
The appeal went to the Cascade County Tax Appeal Board in February and the company asked that their taxable value be set at $190.7 million.
The appeals board voted to set the value at $312.5 million.
Both the DoR and Calumet are appealing that decision to the Montana Tax Appeal Board. A hearing has not yet been scheduled at the state board.
The lower value set by the county board means about $735,000 in lost tax revenue for the county. Until that protest is resolved, none of the protested taxes will be distributed to the county or the city.
The county, like the city, is also able to raise the permissive medical levy to cover insurance premiums for employees.
“Thankfully, the county’s medical insurance premiums have gone down,” Embleton said.
The county uses the Montana Association of Counties insurance pool. Last year, those rates per employee went up $32/month. Currently, the county’s portion of insurance premiums is $647 monthly per employee.
For the upcoming fiscal year, the rate is going down $23 to $624 per month per employee.
That’s a savings of about $105,000 for the year for the county.
The county is also waiting to hear on their share of the entitlement funds.
In the current fiscal year, the county received about $1.27 million. Those funds come in part from gambling and beer and wine sales and help fund the county’s bridges, state fair, court system, mental health, public safety, roads, the library and planning department.
“That is a major piece of our revenues,” Embleton said.
One of the major projects planned for the upcoming fiscal year, which starts July 1, is the demolition and replacement of the grandstands at Montana Expo Park.
Commissioners have already awarded contracts for the roughly $2.2 million project. The commission awarded those contracts with the hope of receiving a $2 million intercap loan through the Montana Board of Investments. The county was notified Tuesday that the loan request was approved. It will be repaid through the general fund.
The county compensation board met Monday and approved a 2.1 percent cost of living increase for all elected officials. The county deals with 11 collective bargaining agreements that would set wages for most county employees. Embleton said typically, the wage increase that’s approved for elected officials is also applied to non-union employees
“There’s still a lot left to do” on the budget, Embleton said.