By Patrick Winderl/Havre Daily Newsfirstname.lastname@example.org
The preliminary budget proposals from Hill County department heads for the fiscal year that starts July 1 are nearly identical to last year's budgets, with the exception of a 2.3 percent wage increase for many county employees.
Over the past several weeks, the Hill County commissioners have approved proposed budgets from the majority of the county's department heads. The county's final budget will be set in September.
When the department heads drafted their budget proposals for fiscal year 2005, they were asked not to request any budget increases, said Hill County Commissioner Doug Kaercher.
"The department heads were given two options: hold the budget at last year's level or present a budget with a 2.3 percent increase in wages," he said.
The 2.3 percent increase was intended to help offset cost-of-living expenses.
The commissioners noted that the proposed budgets are preliminary, and that a number of factors could affect that final budget later this year.
"The value of our mill hasn't been certified yet, and we're not sure how much cash we'll have left over at the end of the year, if we have any at all," Kaercher said.
The county has seen a sharp decline in the taxable value of property over the past five years. Since fiscal year 1998-1999, the value has dropped by more than 25 percent.
This year, property within the county had a total taxable value of $26.4 million - $800,000 less than in fiscal year 2002-2003.
The drop in taxable value means that the value of a county mill also drops. This fiscal year, 1 mill is valued at $26,468, down from more than $27,000 in 2002-2003.
To offset the decrease, the total number of mills increased by 16.4 this year, though the overall budget increased only slightly, up to $5.11 million from $4.93 million the year before.
The bottom line for the preliminary budget for fiscal year 2004-2005 has not been calculated because not every department head has turned in a proposed budget.
Among the preliminary budgets that have been approved by the commissioners are:
Spending for Justice Court is $83,990, including $59,890 to pay the salaries of the department's two employees, and $3,200 for the cost of seating jurors.
In presenting the proposed budget, Hill County Justice of the Peace Terry Stoppa said Justice Court typically has two or three trials a year.
The preliminary budget for the Commissioners' office is $325,161, of which $139,000 is for wages.
The preliminary budget for the Auditor's Office is $86,315, including $65,000 for wages.
The proposed budget for the County Attorney's Office is actually greater than last year, even after the 2.3 percent wage increase. The bottom line is larger because the county's Personnel Department has been merged with the County Attorney's Office. The proposed preliminary budget of $219,875 includes $169,000 in salaries and $1,700 for new Palm Pilots.
The proposed budget for the Superintendent of Schools Office is $77,030, of which $57,000 is earmarked for wages. Superintendent Shirley Isbell asked for an additional $350 in her professional services budget to ensure that her office will have enough money to pay for an attorney hired to advise Isbell on school consolidation issues.
Blue Sky and KG schools on the Hi-Line are looking at consolidating, and Isbell is responsible for overseeing that process.
The proposed budget for the county Road Department is $2.08 million, including $1.44 million for roads, $393,000 for bridges and $201,000 for the maintenance shop.
The budget is subject to change based on the new contract being negotiated for the Road Department's 15 unionized employees. Their current contract expires June 30, and union representatives are seeking a two-year contract.
The proposed budget for Beaver Creek Park is $160,322, including $49,000 in salaries.
The proposed budget for the county Extension office is $110,765.
Other budget items include:
$62,820 to pay for wages for nurses in the county's Health Department.
$40,000 for bioterrorism preparation.
$17,645 for ambulance service.
$34,935 for the H. Earl Clack Museum.
$4,815 for the Hingham Fire District.
$7,369 for the Inverness Fire District.
$4,500 for animal control services.