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Elected officials discuss issues in training meeting


Last updated 1/29/2020 at 12:01pm

Havre Daily News/Jack Lambert

Hill County Commissioner Mark Peterson talks with auditor Kathy Olson Tuesday during an elected officials training meeting in the county commissioners office at the Hill County Courthouse.

Budgets and personnel were topics of discussion at a Hill County elected officials training meeting Tuesday.

Hill County Commissioner Mark Peterson said he and the commissioners have been in contact with the Montana Association of Counties in discussing the roles and responsibilities of elected officials within the county.

MACo Executive Director Eric Bryson started the meeting and asked the county commissioners, "Tell me in a few words, if you can, what you think your budget adoption and management process is."

"For me, it has been approximately three days before we sign the budget, it's given to us on the table, so that the public can review it and we can review prior to the adoption," Peterson said. "We just approve it and follow the budget after that."

"We ask departments to submit budgets, beginning sometime in the end of May, we ask every department to submit their budget and they all schedule a time, come to us and then go through if they have increases, if they have expectations of a new computer, new truck, whatever and so, we do see what that looks like when it comes here then it's left with us and (Hill County Clerk and Recorder Susan Armstrong) sits on those and compiles," Hill County Commissioner Diane McLean said. "... It's hard to know if we really have a very good system because it seems like there is information we are not completely seeing as, maybe, as well as we should."

"One of the things we always hang up on is getting our numbers from the state that says, 'You get this much money.' Well, we don't get that till September and we want to start making a budget that starts on July 1, and that is our real big hangup," Hill County Commissioner Mike Wendland said. 

"Tell me what you think of the budget adoption process and that ongoing management of the budget," Bryson said. "What does that process look like? What suggestions do you have for improvement? What do you think? You're part of that."

  Hill County Auditor Kathy Olson said she is hands-off when it comes to the budget other than her department. 

"One of the recommendations I am going to make for you guys is that you, on a somewhat regular basis, do something that looks like a budget review," Bryson said. "I don't care if it's quarterly, I don't care if it's semi-annually, but you guys, as elected officials, meet. Because one of the things we talk about in elected officials training is the budget adoption process is not just that May to June to September, it's all-year long, ongoing, all the time. I'm going to make a recommendation that you set some regular meetings, so you can both build relationships and have something tangible you can get done."

Hill County Sheriff Jamie Ross said there is something similar already in place and when he has problems with his budget he comes down and talks to the commissioners and clerk and recorder.

"They have an open-door policy, as does Sue, and I never had an issue having those conversations with the commission or the clerk and recorder," he said. "No sense in coming up here if I don't have issues to discuss."

"Each month (the elected officials) do get a print out. Every month my deputy sends one out after Kathy is done with her claims," Armstrong said. "Each office gets their own print out, so they can look through it, some of them want detail, some don't, but every month they get it."

Hill County Treasure Sandy Brown said what she thinks is that people don't understand when looking at the budget, is that it's a plan; it is not exact. 

"I think too much emphasis is put on just these people looking at expenditure reports because the cash is the ultimate thing," she said. "You have to have them both to see that and there is so much emphasis put on (revenue projections) and people tend to spend because they think that's what it is in (their) budget."

"I have told most departments when they talk to me, this is what you are showing me in your revenue, what's supposed to come in, but you gotta understand you don't get all that revenue and definitely cannot spend all that money," Armstrong said. "Most departments I have not had a problem with within the last couple of years."

"The thing with my budget is that it's not just my budget, it's the county's budget and we all have to work together as a group to figure out how to solve those issues," Ross said. "It's not just my issue to solve."

Armstrong said she thinks everybody knows that if they have to spend money that is not in the budget, they have to come talk to the commissioners, adding that if a budget is in need of increasing a resolution will be voted on through the commission.

Bryson asked Hill County Attorney Karen Alley if she were "queen for a day" and could fix all the issues that were there, what would that look like?

"I think one of the biggest issues I see in the county is that just more open lines of communication," Alley said. "I think there is a lot of areas where we could be better communicators, certainly with budget issues and claims stuff." 

She said she has only been in her position for over a year now and she had to rely on others to teach her how things were run.

Human Resources Officer Christine Muller said she is working on a personnel manual, policy and procedures and safety manual in one document for each department. It should be coming out within the next few months.

"Part of it too, is double-checking the statutes and all that to make sure they are compliant as well and get all the forms together, so it's right there," she said.

She added that she agrees with Alley on communication problems between different departments through different people and how to work through issues.

Havre Daily News/Jack Lambert

Hill County Clerk and Recorder Susan Armstrong talks on Tuesday during an elected officials training meeting in the County Commissioners office at the Hill County Courthouse.

"I just want to know what my job is," Peterson said. "Everybody here is capable of doing their job as long as they know what their job is and that is what I'd like to know."

He said he'd like to know what each job entails, so when he gets to a position and find the expert and learn.

Ross said at the sheriff's department has a book listing job duties of positions in his department.

MACo Legal Counsel McKenzie McCarthy said 10 counties in Montana have a designated human resources officer and, in those that don't the commissioners and the clerk and recorder take on the role.

"Every county needs a dedicated human resources function because your staff needs a place they can go, they need to understand the professionalism in training delivered, how to effectively manage and supervise and motivate folks," Bryson said. "In county government it is the one glaring lack of for whatever reason there is not motivation enough to prioritize the human resource function."


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