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HELENA – The state Board of Livestock next week may be asked to lay off some staff members at the state Livestock Department and offer unpaid furloughs to others.

The department faces a budget shortfall expected to be somewhere around $300,000 for the fiscal year that ends June 30, 2015, its executive officer, Christian Mackay, said Tuesday. It has only seven months to make up money, from this month through June 2015.

Some fees already have been raised since the current fiscal year began in July, he said, and some vacant jobs have not been filled to save money.

Mackay will make recommendations to the board, which has scheduled a conference call for 4 p.m. Dec. 18 to act on them.

The board discussed the possibility of layoffs and furloughs at its meeting Tuesday, but decided to wait until Mackay sent them recommendations next week.

Unlike other executive branch departments in Montana state government, the board, which is appointed by the governor, is in charge of the department and the executive officer works for the board. In other departments, the director is appointed by, and works for, the governor.

The Livestock Department has a $10 million annual budget with 140 employees.

Its budget shortfall is a threefold problem, Mackay said.

First, between 2009 and 2012, the department spent about $1 million from its per-capita fees on brucellosis testing before the funding source was shifted to the state general fund last year.

Per-capita fees are charged on every head of livestock, with the money going to help fund the department.

Second, the state general fund portion of funding for the state diagnostic laboratory budget has been reduced over the past few sessions. Per-capita fees helped make up that gap.

The third factor is reduction in income generated by its Brand Inspection Division, which has seen increased costs of employment benefits.

Mackay said some employees already have taken unpaid furloughs in anticipation of the board taking action to reduce the shortfall.

During the board meeting, the department’s division administrators went through their own budgets and discussed potential options and how they could affect each division.

“A furlough is a one-time fix you’re counting on to save the day,” board member John Scully of Ennis said. “They won’t save our recurring expense management problem.”

He said it’s incumbent on the board to make the budget choices that “are the least service-directed and do the least damage to the organization as a whole.’

Board member John Lehfeldt of Lavina said he didn’t want to see the Brands Enforcement Division’s budget cut and services diminished.

“If it could happen somewhere else, I’d feel better about it,” he said.

The board considered but then dropped the idea for now of informing employees they could start taking up to 15 unpaid furlough days a year. It decided to wait until next week to consider that with other options.

Board member Jeffrey Lewis of Corvallis said he worries about how employee morale would be affected to offer furloughs now and then lay off some employees later.

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