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Kearns and Sons

County budget hearings to begin

 

By Michael Howell

The Ravalli County Commissioners, after receiving budget requests from every department, are about to make some crucial budget decisions for the upcoming fiscal year 2014. A meeting date has been set for Monday, July 1. Time has been set aside on July 8 and 9, if needed. This will be the third budget to be set by this all-Republican Board of Commissioners.

The first budget under their control precipitated quite a bit of controversy, primarily over the reduction in workforce used to help finance a big boost in reserve funds. The Commissioners decided to cut 20 employees and use the savings to increase the Reserve Funds. They adopted a policy that requires no less than 11% in Operating Reserves, but with a goal of maintaining 16%. Operating Reserves went up from 7.14% in 2011 to 8.25% in 2012 and were pushed up to 12.95% in the 2013 budget.

In the recently released Financial and Compliance Report for the year ending June 30, 2012, it states that the increase in the County’s net assets from FY 2011 to FY2012 “is primarily due to additional cash in operating reserves and in the Capital Reserve Funds.”  The greatest increase in assets was in Restricted Net Assets, which saw a 29% increase. This was due to additional cash invested as operational reserves in operational funds such as the Public Safety Fund and the Road Fund.

Chief Financial Officer Klarysse Murphy, who submitted the financial data for the analysis, said in her statement, “During the FY 2012 budget process, the County Commissioners reviewed efficiencies within each County department and chose to reduce the County workforce by 9% (20 employees)… With streamlining operations, the County was able to add additional cash to operating reserve that had reached critical low amounts and also add to capital reserves that had not been a priority for over a decade.” The County dedicated an additional $450,000 to operating reserves in FY2012.

Total revenues went up from $20.9 million in FY 2011 to $22.56 million in 2012, an 8% rise.

Total government expenses were slightly reduced by $47,000, dropping from $20.45 million to $20.4 million.

General revenues went up by 4% to $15.3 million. These include property tax revenue which increased by $556,000 rising from $11.5 million to $12 million, a 5% increase. This increase was due, in part, to an aggressive program of collecting on delinquent taxes. Total property taxes actually collected in 2012 reached $10.4 million, up from $4.8 million a decade ago. Intergovernmental revenues increased 5%, jumping from $2.9 million to $3 million. Investment earnings and other revenue dropped by 38% and 17% respectively for a combined reduction in revenue of $78,000.

Program revenues were up by 16% to $7.25 million. These include charges for services, which went down by 3%, and operating grants which went up by 1% and capital grants which went up a whopping 126%, primarily due to the federal grant for the West Fork Road project.

The biggest jump in program revenues in FY 2012 came in the form of capital grants, mostly from the feds for work on the West Fork Road, which boosted program revenues by a little over $1 million.

General government expenses were reduced in 2012 by $429,000 (8%). Public Health expenses went down by 32%, falling from $1.57 million to $1.07 million a $495,000 reduction. But expenses went up elsewhere. Expenses in housing and community development rose by $426,000 and conservation of natural resources spending rose by $303,000. Both were up by 100%. Spending on culture and recreation went up 76%, rising by $431,000. The reduction in general government expenses was primarily due to a reduction in the workforce at the Treasurer’s Office, the Clerk and Recorder’s Office, the Commissioners’ Office, the Planning Department, and the Environmental Health Department.

General Fund revenues for FY 2013 were budgeted at $10.5 million, up from $10.2 in 2014. Total revenues, including program revenues, for FY 2013 were budgeted at $22.7 million, down slightly from $22.8 million in FY 2012.

The FY 2013 budget projected expenses at $22.7 million, a slight decrease from the $22.8 million in FY 2012.

Total revenues have grown from $7.3 million in 1995 by about a million dollars annually until they dropped in FY2011 to $22.3 million, then rose a bit in 2012 to $22.8 million before dropping again in 2013 to $22.7 million

Over the decade spanning the years 2002 to 2012, the Taxable Valuation of property in the County has risen steadily between 2.5% to 3.5% annually. The Market Valuation, however, showed increases of 5.2% to 7.8% annually except in 2003 when it dropped by 4.8% and in 2009 when it dropped by 11.2%.

The County’s biggest taxpayers in FY 2012 were NorthWestern Energy at $3.9 million; Glaxo/Smith/Kline at $3.5 million; Qwest Corporation at $988,000, Ravalli Electric Coop at $624,000; Montana Rail Link at $603,000; Verizon Wireless at $502,000; Bresnan Communications at $443,000; Ravalli County Bank at $242,000; Farmers State Bank at $219,000; and MD-CDW, LLC (Retail Rentals) at $189,000.

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