“People don’t trust us holding the purse strings. People have a hard time trusting us putting the monies where they are supposed to go…Don’t blame the citizens. They don’t trust us.”
Glacier County Commissioner John Overcast didn’t mince words in expressing his reason for not supporting the motion by Commissioner Tom McKay to ask voters to pay an additional $1.6 million in taxes to pay for the EMS facility built approximately five years ago.
Commission chairman Michael Des-Rosier called a special meeting for Monday, March 8, after two of the three special voted levies on the March 5 meeting agenda failed to pass. DesRosier was absent from the March 3 and March 5 meetings and Vice Chairman McKay chaired the meetings. (See related story.)
Building Special Levy
DesRosier said at the March 8 meeting that the special levy for the EMS Building was needed to “raise money to pay back the costs for construction.” He told those in the meeting the County used reserves, Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) funds and “other departments’ county funds” to finance the building. DesRosier claimed this “put the County in a deficit in PILT and shorting a lot of other funds,” adding, the County needs “to pay those dollars back so to speak.”
DesRosier and McKay voted in favor of the motion, while Overcast voted against.
The issue will now go to the voters on the June 2 Primary Election ballot. The Commissioners are seeking $327,807 per year for five years. DesRosier and McKay are asking voters to approve a tax increase during that time which will have an annual impact of approximately $16.03 for the owner of a home valued at $100,000 and $32.06 for a $200,000 home.
DesRosier did not allow questions, only comments from the public after asking a show of hands who was in favor of the mill levy and who opposed it. Local resident Kyla Presnell voiced she was opposed due to the EMS not being held accountable and paying back the various county funds from its operations budget. If the $1 million EMS operational levy passes on June 2 (see related story), Presnell would like to see the EMS, Commissioners, Chief Financial Officer, etc., meet and take funds from the annual EMS budget to pay back the county coffers.
Carol McDivitt, RN, of the Glacier County Health Department stated, “I support EMS to the hilt,” but she does not support the building levy. “It should have been the taxpayers’ decision to begin with,” she said, adding the Commissioners shouldn’t be asking for the funding after it is built.
Glacier County Attorney Terryl Matt asked what the difference is. “Either way you are asking them.”
Matt continued, Bob Denning, the consultant hired by Glacier County, recorded the amount as a loan from the County to EMS. “It would really help the County if the taxpayers pay for it,” she added.
Local taxpayer and business owner LeAnne Kavanagh spoke against the levy due to the amount being requested by the Commissioners. She reminded the commissioners the initial funding plan for the project included $730,000 from various sources already available, including $300,000 in EMS Capital Improvement Funds, Wind Farm Impact Fees from the County and School District No. 15 totaling approximately $240,000, $100,000 from the County’s General Capital Improvement Fund and $90,000 from the Accelerated Tax Fund.
The unfunded portion of $800,000 was to be taken care of by an INTERCAP loan, but county officials did not apply for the loan.
DesRosier explained the Commissioners are asking the taxpayers to fund the County’s Public Safety budget for an additional $908,089 per year. This would be “perpetual” meaning it would occur every year on the taxpayers’ bill.
If approved, the annual tax increase will be $48.89 for the owner of a home valued at $100,000 and $97.79 for a $200,000 home.
Currently, the Glacier County Sheriff’s Office/Public Safety budget receives 34.22 mills or $980,514 in property tax revenues to fund its $1.8 million budget. The rest is funded by “non tax revenues.” For FY 2019-20, the County is using its “interfund transfer” account to subsidize $692,000 of the Public Safety budget.
Overcast suggested the Commissioners start with asking the taxpayers to pass the Public Safety Levy for two or three years. “I have trouble with perpetual,” he stated.
Sheriff Vernon “Napi” Billedeaux and Capt. Tom Seifert explained the levy that built the jail didn’t provide funding for the additional operating expenses of the larger facility. “We have to find a way to fund it. We can’t keep taking it out of PILT,” explained Billedeaux.
Seifert pointed out the types of crimes that occur in Glacier County and that the total number of felonies handled annually here is more than the three neighboring counties combined. He also briefly explained the costs associated with housing prisoners as well as the increase in costs should the County have to close the detention center and transport prisoners to and from area facilities.
“It’s time to stop pointing fingers and fund the jail by a tax,” he stated. “If it is defeated, we will do it again.”
Overcast asked if waiting until the General Election in November was an option, to give the County more time to educate the public on the need for the special levy.
“We can’t make it. We don’t have the money,” responded DesRosier. “We’re not in a position to wait any longer. PILT is in a deficit.”
Billedeaux replied, “This is for the future of the Sheriff’s Office–so the next sheriff doesn’t have to deal with this.”
Seifert added, “This has nothing to do with overspending. This is not fiscal irresponsibility by this sheriff.” Seifert said he’s worked under three sheriff’s and Billedeaux is conservative and a “tight ass” when it comes to spending. “This levy will do nothing but allow us to keep jobs and keep the Sheriff’s Office moving forward.
The Commissioners voted unanimously to put the issue on the June 2 ballot for the voters to decide.