“We’ve got a big problem,” Cut Bank Airport Authority (CBAA) board member Rick Geiger told the Glacier County Commissioners on Monday, Nov. 16. “And we need to have something done fairly quickly to alleviate it.” For the second consecutive year, the approximately $88,000 in county mills used to fund the operations of the Cut Bank International Airport were missing from the county tax bill. Geiger said if something isn’t done fast to remedy the problem, the airport will run out of money in January.
Commissioner and Vice Chair Tom McKay said he didn’t feel comfortable making any decision that day without Chairman Michael DesRosier, who did not attend last week’s meeting. McKay also wanted to consult with Clerk and Recorder Mandi Kennerly, CFO Kittson and County Attorney Terryl Matt. “Can you give us an extra week and we’ll settle it?”
“That’s no problem as long as we get it resolved and get the money coming. We can’t wait until next year,” responded CBAA Chairman Jim Newman
“Whatever happened is our fault,” admitted McKay. “Some process didn’t happen. It is our fault.”
McKay told Geiger and Newman the County would conduct an “in-house investigation and rectify the problem so at our next meeting it is settled.” The Commissioners put the matter on their meeting set for Nov. 25 meeting (today) in Cut Bank.
“We can find out why it happened, but taxpayers still need to be sent a bill so we know we’ll be getting our needed funding,” said Geiger.
According to Geiger, the CBAA’s 3.07 mills were in the budget sent off to the State of Montana earlier this fall, but not on the tax bills, which came out in early November.
Newman stated, “For two years this has not been on the tax bills.” Geiger said whoever sent the tax statements out for printing didn’t have the airport mills listed. Geiger added, “There’s a problem and we need to fix it.”
Kennerly, who was present at the meeting, confirmed the CBAA’s mills were included in the FY 2020-21 budget and on the approved mill levies she submits to the Montana Department of Revenue. “I had all the mills into the system,” she stated.
Kennerly said she does not have access to the “tax bill” side of the system and explained the reason for the separation of duties of the clerk and recorder and the treasurer’s office. “All aspects of the tax bills are the function of the County Treasurer,” she stated.
In researching whose responsibility it is to issue tax bills, Geiger said the treasurer does in most counties. Commissioner Overcast said he spoke with Toole County Treasurer Boyd Jackson who confirmed it was the county treasurer’s responsibility.
Kennerly said Glacier County Treasurer Don Wilson did not have any conversations with her regarding the mill levies. She noted the Department of Revenue reconciles the property taxes with the Treasurer, reiterating she does not have access to the tax bill portion of the software. “I don’t know if he (Wilson) had the (FY 2020-21) mill levy sheet.”
Kennerly stated, “I think the tax bills need to be reissued.” Geiger agreed, saying, “Really, the only fix is to send out revised tax bills.”
Geiger reminded the Commissioners last year when the mills were left off the tax bills, City Attorney Robert Smith requested the county amend and reprint the tax bills. Instead, the Commissioners and Chief Financial Officer Chancy Kittson assured the CBAA they would provide the approximately $80-$85,000 in funding from the County’s General Fund. That didn’t happen. The County only paid out $30,000 to the CBAA and those funds weren’t distributed until the end of the fiscal year.
When asked, the Commissioners said they would make sure the CBAA received the remainder of the funding due the CBAA from FY 2020.
McKay stated the issue would be “taken care of” at the Nov. 25 meeting.
“I don’t want to leave my position leaving someone else in trouble,” said the outgoing Commissioner. McKay was unsuccessful in his bid for re-election. His term expires on Dec. 31.
“We’re talking about people’s livelihoods,” stressed Newman during the meeting. Airport personnel handle the water testing for the water system at the airport, which also supplies the Glacier County Road Department with potable water.
Geiger noted the increase in both in and out-of-state medical flights due to COVID-19 and other life-threatening medical emergencies. He pointed out the Cut Bank airport is used by commercial businesses, such as United Parcel Service, which serves the Golden Triangle area, adding there are numerous economical and medical reasons to make sure the Cut Bank International Airport remains operational.
Geiger also reminded the Commissioners, since the airport was established as a City-County airport, both Glacier County and the City of Cut Bank will be responsible for the payback of some $8 million in federal funding for Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) projects completed with federal funds, with the assurance the City and County will continue to operate the airport for 20 years.
“Those projects didn’t cost our local taxpayers anything. But if the airport ceases to function, the FAA will come and ask Glacier County and the City of Cut Bank to repay roughly $8 million for those projects,” said Geiger.