By Tim Leeds
Hill County and the city of Havre both set budgets Monday, with local taxes increased for both.
Hill County commissioners approved a preliminary general fund budget of $3.32 million. Diane Mellem, Hill County clerk and recorder, said the county will raise the countywide mill levy by 7.68 mills for an estimated tax increase of about $73,500. The increase will cost a taxpayer with a $50,000 home about $13.61 a year.
The Havre City Council approved a final budget of about $11 million, with about $1.24 million coming from property taxes. The council approved raising the mill rate from 143 to 154.6 mills to raise an additional $41,545. The increase will cost a taxpayer with a $50,000 home about $20.55 a year.
Havre Treasurer Lowell Swenson said in an interview that the taxable valuation in the city dropped some this year, probably because of actions taken during the last two regular sessions of the Legislature. The Havre Public Schools, the county and city have had to raise real property taxes to make up for a reduction of taxable value on business equipment and other property approved by the Legislature.
Mellem said the increase in the mill levy was needed because of a combination of lost revenue in light vehicle fees and lower taxable value in the county.
Hill County Commissioner Doug Kaercher said some unknowns still exist about revenue but Monday was the deadline for approving the budget.
"We're locking the budget down to the best of our knowledge and ability," Kaercher said today.
Kaercher said that under provisions of House Bill 121, passed by the Legislature this spring, the state now reimburses fees for welfare and district courts back to the counties. In the past, the counties collected those fees.
Kaercher said the state Commerce Department has made allowances because of the new reimbursement system. The department realizes there's no way cities and counties can have final figures without all of the non-tax revenue figures available.
Mellem said she learned Friday how much Hill County is receiving for welfare fees and is still waiting on the district court fees.
Swenson said Havre has the authority under HB 124 and from a recent decision by the state attorney general to raise taxes. HB 124 allows cities to increase their budgets and taxes to adjust for inflation. Havre's allowance was 1.28 percent under that law.
The rest of the increase is to compensate the city for revenue lost due to the new system for motor vehicle fees approved in last year's election.
Swenson said Havre lost about $16,000 in revenue from the new motor vehicle fee system. Attorney General Mike McGrath issued an opinion that local governments could raise taxes to make up for revenue lost under the new system.