Commissioners invite comments this week on budget

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The Lake County Commissioners have scheduled time this week for public comment on the Fiscal Year 2019 budget that the commissioners have tentatively scheduled to adopt on Thursday, Sept. 6. Copies of the budget are available at the Commissioners’ Office in the Courthouse.

Preliminary figures forecast a total county budget of $26,869,187; that is about $300,000 less than last fiscal year. Commissioners were able to hold the line on spending even though the value of a mill decreased from the previous year. This was accomplished by assessing fewer total mills than the last budget cycle.

Most of the reduction of mills levied came from the commissioners’ decision to reduce the number of mills collected to comply with a Judgment Levy that may eventually require the county to provide additional space for our two district judges. The additional space is expected to include another courtroom and office space for the judges and their support staff. Due to the uncertainty surrounding Public Law 280, the commissioners determined that setting aside more dollars for construction that may or may not happen, was not necessary in the coming fiscal year.

THE COUNTY acts as the tax collector for all county entities, and collected just over $43 million last fiscal year. Only about 20 percent of the dollars, or $12,245,503, went toward providing county services. School districts receive the most tax dollars as just over 50 percent of the dollars that come into the county are redistributed to area schools. The remaining 30 percent of taxes collected are sent to the state, primarily to support the state public school and university system levies.

The overall financial position of the county at this time is good. There are no long-term bond obligations to pay off, and the commissioners have reserves adequate to fund county business during the time that tax revenue is not able to do that, or if some emergency arises that would require significant county expenditures.

The most troubling aspect of the budget is that the county’s property tax revenues decreased by about $100,000 compared to Fiscal Year 2018. This decrease is probably tied to the amount of taxes being protested, delinquent taxes, and the removal of properties from taxable status.

AN ADDITIONAL unexplained aspect of the county’s tax situation is that although total market value increased in the county, the amount of taxable value decreased. This also happened in some neighboring counties and the Montana Department of Revenue has not provided a clear explanation to the counties as to how this happened.

Taxpayers should not assume that since the county has not increased taxes that their tax bill will stay the same or even decrease. Other entities, such as school districts, other local governments, and special improvement districts may significantly impact a taxpayer’s final tax bill.

The commissioners urge taxpayers to examine their tax bills and gain a better understanding of where their tax dollars are being spent.

— Lake County Commissioners

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