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County budget

A pie chart of the preliminary 2020 Missoula County budget expenditures.

Missoula County released its preliminary 2020 budget on Thursday, and it includes $183.9 million in total expenditures compared to $167.5 million in revenues.

It also includes a total of $1.6 million in ongoing requests from various departments — meaning if they are approved the would be funded every year — and $1.98 million in one-time requests.

However, the Montana Department of Revenue doesn’t release certified taxable values until August, which means the county won’t know until then what the final property tax revenues will be. That means the county won’t be able to provide an estimated tax increase for property owners until the final budget hearing on Aug. 22 at 2 p.m. in the county courthouse.

“What we choose to fund in the budget directly reflects the priorities of the county,” said county commission chairman Dave Strohmaier. “We can more effectively make decisions on behalf of the public when we hear from the public, so we encourage everyone to take a look at the requests in the budget and let us know what our funding priorities should be.”

The county is anticipating lower projected revenue in fiscal year 2020 in several areas. First, there will be a $408,655 decrease in PILT (Payment in Lieu of Taxes) revenue from the Department of Interior. The money goes to counties with federal lands that can’t be developed, like National Forest land, because those lands don’t have houses or new businesses that can be taxed.

“Many communities are suffering because they have nobody to tax,” said county chief financial officer Andrew Czorny at a public hearing on Thursday, referring to the reduction in PILT revenue.

The Interior Department is awarding Montana $34 million worth of PILT this year, which is a 15-percent drop from last year’s record-high allocation, according to Montana Public Radio. Missoula County is getting $1.9 million this year compared to $2.3 million last year for its 875,000 acres of public lands.

The Interior Department was headed by Montana politician Ryan Zinke from early 2017 until he resigned last December amid multiple ethics investigations.

The county is also anticipating a $250,000 decrease in revenue due to what Czorny called an “insufficient per diem rate paid to the county to house state inmates at the Missoula County Detention Facility. The money is allocated by the state Legislature.

“The county is picking up the tab on that shortfall,” he said.

The largest expenditure on the county budget, as with any county budget, involves personnel. In Missoula County, 867 employees are projected to cost taxpayers an estimated $70.6 million, an average of about $81,430 per employee. Czorny said 85 percent of county employees are union employees, and the cost of benefits like health insurance has been going up markedly.

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Czorny said ongoing expense requests, if approved, would most likely be funded by an increase in property taxes. However, one-time requests could in most cases be paid for by savings within each department.

Among the requests:

• The county road department seeks $203,250 in one-time requests and $84,192 in ongoing requests. Strohmaier showed the crowd a breakdown of his personal property taxes and noted that he pays about $18 a year for road maintenance, which fellow commissioner Josh Slotnick called a “great deal.”

• The County Detention Center seeks $203,000 in ongoing requests, and the planning department is requesting $143,000 in one-time requests. The Sheriff’s Office seeks a $280,232 ongoing increase for a “Special Duties Unit.”

• The County Attorney’s Office is requesting $60,000 in ongoing expenses to promote one staff member to civil chief deputy.

• The Commissioner’s Office is requesting $33,000 in ongoing expenses and $54,867 in one-time expenses. For example, they want $29,415 for community and employee surveys and $25,000 for a public information and citizen request management system.

• The county is looking at increases in operational expenses and capital expenditures. For example, the county is spending $2.78 million on the property at 140 N. Russell St. for a new elections center and equipment.

The expenditure and revenue numbers are a little skewed, according to chief financial officer Andrew Czorny, because the county completed a voter-approved bond issuance last fiscal year for a new Missoula Public Library facility. The county received the revenue from that bond issuance and it’s now in cash savings. So that means $27.5 million of the county’s expenditures are being met by payments from cash savings.

The only member of the public to ask a question on Thursday was county resident Jane Van Fossen. She wanted to know if the county anticipates putting a bond initiative before voters to fund improvements to the county fairgrounds.

Strohmaier said he wasn't aware of any plan for a fairgrounds bond.

To comment on the budget or see a full breakdown of the budget, visit online at https://www.missoulacounty.us/government/administration/financial-services/budgets or call 258-4877.

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