Wednesday, July 17, 2024

County preliminary budget looks to keep taxes flat

| July 10, 2024 7:30 AM


For the Hungry Horse News

Flathead County commissioners last week approved a preliminary budget for fiscal year 2025 that keeps county taxes even.  

The commissioners approve a budget totaling $129.7 million in expenditures. The approval allows the county to continue operations at the start of the fiscal year on July 1. 

The final budget will be approved in August after the state Department of Revenue releases the county’s updated tax information including newly taxable property.  

The budget total in fiscal year 2024 was $115.8 million. While the dollar amount is expected to increase for the upcoming budget, the number of mills expected to be levied is relatively even.  

The county budget last year called for a levy of 103.34 mills while the fiscal year 2025 preliminary budget has a levy of 104.88 mills.  

County Finance Director Amy Dexter said the increase in mills is attributed to an increase in the levies for the emergency service and health departments. The number of mills levied could change in the final budget after the county receives its updated tax information from the state, she noted.   

The preliminary budget shows revenue of $117 million.  

Dexter said that figure is a “worst-case scenario” and will change once the county gets final tax numbers.  

The budget also factors in a cost-of-living increase for county employees of 3.2% as approved by the commissioners earlier this month. The increase costs about $1.3 million.  

County Administrator Pete Melnick said  department heads and elected officials have worked through the budget to drill down to service delivery needs.  

“This budget does not increase taxes,” Melnick said. “It still reflects the 5.74 mills that are being left on the table.” 

Dexter said county departments were asked to be conservative with their budgets and “hold the line” where possible. 

Melnick said property owners may see tax bills increase because of improvements made to a property or increases made at the city or state level, but not because of the county’s budget.  

“The county is holding the line and actually, at this point, under milling per the commissioners’ guidance,” he said.  

Commissioners on Thursday also approved the county’s capital improvement plan for fiscal years 2025-2029. The document is used by the county to identify the future timing of capital needs, estimated capital costs and funding sources.

The document projects the need to spend $213.8 million over the next five years. 

The largest percentage of capital expense dollars falls within public safety, a total of more than $137.4 million. The construction of a new county detention facility is planned at an expense of $135 million over three years.