Beaverhead County Commission approves 20-21 budget

Casey S. Elliott
Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Beaverhead County’s 2020-21 fiscal year budget grew by more than $1 million over the prior year, with a large chunk of that due to departments being frugal with their individual budgets.

The commission approved the county budget Sept. 8.

Commissioner Mike McGinley said the commission does not pass its official budget until after Aug. 1, as it must wait for tax information for the county to come in from the state.

The overall budget for the 20- 21 year clocks in at $12,675,227, which includes $1,698,153 in “cash reserves.” Those reserves – if unspent during the fiscal year – are put back in the individual department’s budgets at the beginning of the next fiscal year in July. The reserves cover paychecks and expenses between July 1 and when the commission officially approves the budget in August or September.

Revenues this year were up roughly 14.5 percent over the prior year’s budget, with a large segment of that cash left over from each county department, McGinley said. Non-tax revenue increased by more than $1.2 million, largely due to grant funding related to the coronavirus pandemic, he said. Property tax revenue increased a little over 1 percent, or about $52,000.

Expenditures are also predicted to increase, accounting for cost-of-living raises for staff and elected officials. The county also expects to hire an additional full-time 911 dispatcher, with half the salary paid for by the city of Dillon. Sheriff Paul Craft asked for the additional staff member to reduce overtime costs for existing staff.

McGinley credited the financial improvements to the different department heads in the county, who choose not to spend the entire amount of their allotted budgets in any given year.

“When we do budgets, they ask for what they think they need. They treat it like their own personal money – they know where every dollar is going, and they don’t spend it if they don’t need to. And if they don’t spend it, it goes into their reserve. That turns into cash for the next year,” he said. “We don’t take it from them and put it in other funds.”

In general, the county will levy 1.23 more mills overall. Mills typically go down as property tax revenue goes up. The majority of millage is “voted” in the county, meaning residents approved mill levies for items over and above what the county can legally tax in mills. Some examples include the animal shelter, Search and Rescue and the library. The increase this year was largely from road millage and the sheriff’s officer’s retirement fund.

McGinley said he expects the budget will be amended as the year progresses, depending on additional costs and revenue related to the coronavirus pandemic.

“Overall, it’s a positive, good year for Beaverhead County when you look at the budget,” he said.

School budgets approved

County school budgets are separate from the overall budget. All were approved at the commission meeting Sept. 8.

None of the budgets are expecting Secure Rural Schools (SRS) payments, Marsh and McGinley said. The county had budgeting difficulties one year when plugging in anticipated payments that did not come; they do not intend to make that mistake again.

Marsh added she has seen an uptick in residents homeschooling their students because of the pandemic. Homeschooled students are not counted in districts’ attendance numbers.

“Most people I’ve talked to about homeschooling say they are happy with the school, but they have issues with some of the COVID-related things,” she said. “Some don’t like masks, and some just don’t like the uncertainty of what will happen if you start at school and then have to teach at home. That’s probably the most common – the uncertainty. For the most part, a lot of parents are saying they just want to see how it goes and hope to be able to put their kids back in school.”

The countywide transportation and elementary retirement funds increased $178,976 in taxable value to $24,228,288, but required fewer mills levied. The countywide high school retirement fund also increased in taxable value, but will levy an additional 0.10 mills, from 16.91 to 17.01.

Beaverhead County High Schools’ taxable value increased $56,408 over the prior year to $22,084,979, and is anticipating 12 additional students (based on the state’s way of calculating student attendance). Overall mills are predicted to increase slightly to 82.99.

Dillon School District #10’s taxable value declined $330,726 to $15,920,777; its total millage increased to 104.65. The district is anticipating 32 additional students.

Grant School District’s taxable value grew $261,659 to $1,908,883; its total millage dropped to 21.40. The district estimates the same number of students as last year.

Jackson School District’s taxable value increased $3,325 to $736,289; total mills decreased to 65.92. The district expects the same number of students.

Lima School District expects three fewer students. It’s taxable value increased $122,568 to $2,143,309. Its millage declined slightly to 190.29.

Polaris School District expects the same number of students this year. Taxable value increased $18,216 to $931,342; millage increased to 44.56 overall.

Reichle District expects two fewer students this year; its taxable value increased $20,251 to $530,607; its mills increased to 97.84.

Wisdom and Wise River are considered “joint districts” with Anaconda-Deer Lodge, so their budgets can differ slightly based on whether students are coming from those areas. Wisdom’s head count is not expected to change; it’s taxable value increased $83,620 to $1,228,566; its total mills dropped to 50.17. Wise River’s attendance is expected to stay the same; its taxable value decreased $5,729 to $1,246,417 and its mills increased to 46.94.