By Michael Howell
On Thursday, September 15, the Ravalli County Commissioners unanimously adopted a $34.87 million budget for FY 2012 that includes a reduction in force (RIF) of at least 17 employees and elimination of even more in terms of positions. Nine employees will be laid off with the closure of the Juvenile Detention Center alone in November. Other RIFs are spread out over other departments including one three-quarter time position in the commissioners’ administrative office (see accompanying stories about some of the other positions being eliminated).
Chief Financial Officer Klarysse Murphy answered some of the questions that have been asked recently about the budget. She said that the portion of the budget being considered was the portion tied to property tax collections and other county revenues. She said that all the funds having to do with flow through grant money, for instance, were not included in this budget picture because there was not enough time. She said that those grant funds are not based on county revenue and would not affect budget considerations.
According to the documents presented at the meeting, the County’s total budget requirement for FY 2012 would be $34,869,481. Only $10,240,572 of that would come from property tax revenue. The remaining $24,628,909 comes from non-tax resources ($16,700,607 of which is from non-tax revenues.)
The $10,240,572 in property tax revenue is based on several levies: an Aggregate Levy of 80.498 mills raising $6,324,173; an Entitlement Levy of 11.646 mills worth $914,979; a Road Levy of 21.59 mills worth $1,362,073; a Senior Citizens Levy of 3.523 mills worth $276,772; a Valley Veterans Levy of 1.011 mills valued at $79,399; a Search and Rescue Levy of 1.285 mills worth $100,926; an Open Space Bonds Levy of 2.317 mills worth $174,534; and a Health Levy of 12.827 valued at $1,007,716.
Murphy stressed the importance for the county as well as each department not only to stay within budget but to try and build up at least one month of reserves for use in emergency. She said the goal is to have about 15 percent reserves in every department.
The commissioners got several compliments and encouragement from people for taking on the tough and painful process of cutting jobs when no other options are available.
“The voters spoke and said the county was fiscally out of control,” said Jan Wisniewski. “There are taxpayers who appreciate your efforts.”
Others offered criticism of the process and a demand for answers to the many questions that were submitted in the process.
“Where is the budget crisis?” asked Maggie Wright. She said that she was not in opposition or making any accusations, she was just asking questions. She has submitted dozens of questions to the county in writing that remain unanswered, she said. Wright requested that the commissioners hold off on making a decision until the answers are provided.
Commissioner Greg Chilcott, noting that the Weed Board had submitted information indicating that the education officer position actually brings in more money in terms of grants and other long term savings than is being saved by eliminating the position.
Commissioner Matt Kanenwisher argued that the duties could be shifted in the department and that grants would still be found.
The motion to amend the budget and keep the position failed on a 3 to 2 vote with Chilcott and Iman voting for it; Foss, Stoltz and Kanenwisher voting against.
Kanenwisher noted that the rate of employment at the county had doubled in the last decade. He also noted that the budget process has been the same for at least a decade and was not conducted any differently this time.
Chilcott said, “The County is losing some very good employees.”