Flathead lake

After a wild budgetary year, the Flathead Basin Commission could receive a funding boost from the next Legislature.

Since 1983, the Commission has brought together the various public and private stakeholders involved with protecting the Flathead Basin. In recent years, they’ve focused their efforts on invasive zebra and quagga mussels.

But 2017’s state fiscal crisis cut deeply into the commission's $149,000 annual appropriation. According to John Grassy, public information officer with the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, a budget of $20,175 remained at the end of Fiscal Year 2017.

Several commission members and Flathead-area state legislators saw these cuts as politically motivated, the product of deep disagreements between former executive director Caryn Miske and the state’s executive branch.

But at last week’s commission meeting in Polson, Mark Bostrom with DNRC denied these claims and announced a possible increase.

“The reductions that we had, it wasn’t any kind of intentional or malicious thing on the part of DNRC, it was just cold, hard facts,” he said. The state's Natural Resources Operations Account, the primary funding source for the commission and other natural resource programs, faced a $2 million shortfall last fiscal year.

The commission is administratively linked to the DNRC. Bostrom, the latter agency’s conservation and resource development division administrator, said that it will request a $40,000 annual appropriation in next year’s funding bill.

In an email, department spokesperson John Grassy explained that the $20,175 remaining at the end of last year is a “starting point for [the commission] in the next biennium assuming the Legislature does not further cut the commission. The request for $40,000 would be a present law adjustment augmenting the base,” making for a total of $60,175 per year.

Commission administrator Kate Wilson said that once an appropriation is made, the commissioners will determine how to spend it at a future meeting.

As previously reported, the Flathead Basin Commission is reducing its focus on aquatic invasive species and re-assessing its role, aiming to serve as a “catalyst” for changes on a range of water-quality issues.

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