Glacier County Depart-ment Heads were summoned to a “discussion” on “furlough of employees” with the Glacier County Commissioners at 11 a.m. on Monday, June 17. Chairman Michael DesRosier requested the meeting with the department heads be added to the agenda on Friday, June 14, but shortly before 11 a.m. Chairman DesRosier and Vice Chairman Tom McKay got up and left. Commissioner John Overcast remained, stating, “I’m not sure what’s going on…”
Human Resources Director Mike Kittson showed up shortly after 11 a.m. and conducted the meeting. He stated the commissioners were looking at “potentially” furloughing employees and were expected to make a decision at a future meeting. The Commissioners are scheduled to meet next in Browning on June 25 and in Cut Bank on June 27.
Department heads and elected officials had several questions about the potential furloughs. Kittson said there were two options they were looking at:
•Complete furlough for one month
•Partial furlough for four months
He cited Glacier County’s financial position as the reason for the need to furlough employees, but neither Kittson, Treasurer Don Wilson or Commissioner Overcast could answer questions about the county’s finances or the amount of savings from furloughing employees the Commissioners were targeting.
It was also pointed out that this would not be an “across the board” furloughing of employees due to some departments being classified as essential services, such as law enforcement, and others as non-essential, such as the library and museum. EMS is also classified as a non-essential service. Kittson said the Commissioners want to “minimize the impact to their constituents.”
Several questions were asked regarding what happens to a furloughed employee when it comes to benefits, retirement, vacation, longevity, unemployment etc. Kittson said he was researching those questions and would issue a memo with answers as soon as he obtained the information. He did say he was “90 percent sure” employees would still be covered by their health insurance and other benefits.
The Montana Association of Counties, which provides the County’s health insurance benefit package “had not weighed in yet,” said Kittson.
As of press time, department heads still had not received any updated information from Kittson. He stressed at Monday’s meeting, the Commissioners will have all those answers before they decide to enact a furlough.
Department heads expressed concern over the lack of communication between the Commissioners and themselves and the “game plan” for how they are addressing the County’s dire financial situation.
Commissioner Overcast voiced, “We’re in a huge financial crush,” but didn’t have specific numbers on what, if any, county funds are still available.
According to the investigative subpoena and affidavit issued by the Attorney General’s Office last month, in the County’s financial report for April, “27 funds were in deficit” with a balance of -$5,852,663.
Treasurer Don Wilson offered several comments blaming the Department of Administration’s budget process for the County’s financial struggles. “We’re 15 percent over budget because of DOA’s process,” he claimed, adding the “budget process is flawed.”
Several Glacier County Department Heads attended a recent budget training in Shelby sponsored by the Department of Administration. Wilson, however, did not attend the training.
Wilson told those at the meeting if their taxes went up, and they lived in Cut Bank, it was due to School District No. 15 and the “3 mill ad valorem tax” imposed by the School District to make up for the loss of revenue due to protested taxes.
This statement, however, is false.
According to Cut Bank Schools Business Manager and District Clerk Scott Laird, “Our tax mills did go up this year, by 4.96 mills, but this was due to our taxable value dropping by 6.7%. We asked for $184,000 less (emphasized) than we did the year before. It has nothing (emphasized) to do with protested taxes,” he stressed.
Department heads and elected officials reiterated to Kittson numerous times during the meeting the need for better communication between the Commissioners and themselves.