Commissioner look to approve budget, hold hearing

Madison County commissioners have asked their department heads to hold as close to last year’s budget as possible and for the most part they’ve done it, said Madison County Commissioner Dave Schulz.

“Recognizing what the economic world is and the struggles that many people are having in rural America … one of my encouragements to commissioners and staff is to maintain the line on the budget as close to last year’s as possible,” Schulz said.

Commissioners will hold a public hearing next Tuesday to take public comment on the county’s budget, which is going through its final adjustments this week in preparation for the hearing.

The county’s fiscal year is from July 1 to June 30. Work on the coming year’s budget begins in April and continues through the summer, said Madison County Commissioner Jim Hart.

Since the 2006/2007 fiscal year, Madison County’s budget has more than doubled, from about $15.2 million to $35.8 million last year. During that time, Madison County saw a dramatic boom in high-end housing growth in the Big Sky area, along with population growth throughout the county, Schulz said.

This growth did two things for the county: increased the tax revenue the county received and increased the demand for county services like law enforcement, roads and planning.

At the same time, costs to the county for doing business increased like it did for everyone else, Schulz said. Things like fuel, health care and equipment increased dramatically during the past five years.

“Madison County is a victim of many of the same financial burdens that residents are,” he said.

This year’s budget is projected to be about $33.5 million. The decrease from last year comes mostly from a reduction in Payment in Lieu of Taxes money from the federal government and the absence of a large Treasure State Endowment Program grant, said Madison County chief financial officer, Vicki Tilstra.

The federal PILT payments are federal payments to counties to help offset the loss of tax revenue due to non-taxable federal land within their boundaries.

Last year Madison County received $1.2 million in PILT funding, Tilstra said. This year, the county is only scheduled to receive about $480,000.

The projected income for the county is about $24.7 million, she said. However, the budget will balance because of a cash balance held over from last year.

The taxable value for the county increased again this past year from $67 million to about $71 million, said Madison County Commissioner Jim Hart. That means this year a mill will be worth about $71,000.

Despite the rough economy, the taxable value in Madison County continues to increase, Hart said.

As part of keeping the spending close to what it was last year included a freeze in county salaries, Schulz said.

“Holding a zero increase line on salaries was, I thought, a very important step,” he said.

The only increase in salaries was a mandatory one percent raise for the sheriff’s department, Schulz said.

Another thing that makes Madison County unique is the two county-owned nursing homes: the Tobacco Root Mountains Care Center and Madison Valley Manor. The demand for those facilities has continued to increase, he said.

Last May, voters in Madison County passed a nursing home levy, which will be crucial for the future operations of both facilities, Hart said.

Last year the county completed an upgrade at the Madison Valley Manor in Ennis and this year they’re starting a remodel and expansion project at TRMCC in Sheridan.

This past year, the county also added a new department by hiring a human resources director. With 214 employees, the county needed a human resources person and so it was money well spent, Hart said. But it was also a necessary expansion of the budget.

Over all, Madison County is in a better place financially than many counties in the state, Schulz said. In fact, nationally nearly 40 percent of county governments are facing deficits or shortfalls, he said.

“I believe Madison County’s financial health is sound,” Schulz said. “I believe that is from our department heads and leaders (having) the foresight in watching the greater economy.”

The public hearing over the final budget will be next Tuesday, Sept. 7 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the commissioner’s meeting room in Virginia City.

For more information call the commissioner’s office at 843-4277.

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