Tempers flared as Glacier County officials discussed the employee furlough plan during their June 2 meeting in Cut Bank. The Glacier County Commissioners approved a two-month “Temporary Furlough Plan” in early April, which was retroactive to March 25. According to the plan, the goal was to “maintain limited operation costs through the end of May.” After much discussion, the Commissions voted unanimously to extend the furlough plan as needed.
At last week’s meeting, the Commissioners discussed how long the temporary furlough of approximately 50 employees would continue. Chief Financial Officer Chancy Kittson recommended the Commissioners continue the furlough due to the “unknown finances” of the County. Kittson was awaiting the “May tax report” from Glacier County Treasurer Don Wilson, who expected to have the information compiled by May 12. Kittson said the report is needed to determine the County’s “spending plan” for June through November.
Glacier County entered into an agreement with the Montana Department of Administration (DOA) and the Montana Department of Revenue (DOR) in late May which DOA and DOR agree to release entitlement and oil and gas payments to the County, but only for three county departments and under very specific conditions.
Glacier County officials were hopeful State officials would classify nearly all departments of the county as essential and not just the Public Safety (Glacier County Sheriff’s Office) Department, Health Department and Disaster and Emergency Services Department. (See related story below.)
Under the agreement, Glacier County must pay the expenses for these three departments and will then be eligible for reimbursement from the withheld payments.
Kittson recommended the Commissioners maintain the furlough plan until there is a definite spending plan. He said the county’s tax revenue from the May taxes was “projected” to be $3 million. Kittson pointed out, “There’s too many maybes…we don’t have it in the bank.”
Chairman Michael DesRosier stated, “If we don’t have the money, we shouldn’t spend it.”
Commissioner John Overcast questioned if employees have been given any information regarding the possible extension of the furlough. “All the information isn’t being given to the employees,” he added.
DesRosier said the “informational issues” could be addressed with a memo.
Commissioner Tom McKay made a motion to extend the furlough but Overcast said he’d have to abstain from seconding. DesRosier seconded the motion which led to more discussion.
Overcast said he had been asked if the library, museum and district court employees would be coming back after May 31. DesRosier responded “it is a day-to-day issue.”
Kittson said in the agreement with DOA those departments were not included.
DesRosier said it has been “frustrating” dealing with the State. “Why are they earmarking certain areas only? It’s all related to COVID. The State is dictating what we can and can’t do with the money.”
When the Commissioner approved the “Temporary Furlough Plan” it was not due to COVID-19, however. Glacier County Attorney Terry Matt made it clear the plan was due to “budget concerns.”
A heated verbal exchange between Wilson and Overcast ensued and both DesRosier and Human Resources Director Mike Kittson instructed Wilson and Overcast to stop so the meeting could resume.
Betsy Seglem, speaking on behalf of the Glacier County Historical Museum, clarified the museum was open and operating with volunteers. “We need to be open and the public needs to know we’re open. We understand the funding is not there now, but hopefully it will be in July.”
HR Director Mike Kittson said the county’s new health insurance carrier as of July 1 is Blue Cross and Blue Shield and he believes they have committed to continuing to cover furloughed employees under the county’s plan for 12 weeks. Changing the County’s health insurance carrier for FY 2020-21 will save approximately $125,000.
In other news from last week’s meeting, the Commissioners:
•Appointed Jenny Krapf as the Interim Glacier County Public Health Director upon the retirement of Carol McDivitt. The appointment will not exceed one year. The commissioners offered many accolades for both McDivitt and Krapf and their job performance during the pandemic.
•Designated Crystal Creek Lodge Treatment Center as the recipient of the County’s Alcohol Tax Money. McDivitt suggested the Commissioners have representatives from Crystal Creek come to a meeting and share more information on their resources and how residents can access their services.
•Held a public hearing to approve Resolution 2020-19, amending the county budget to receive and expend a Public Health Emergency Preparation Grant.
State agrees to release funds to County if conditions are met
By LEANNE KAVANAGH
Pioneer Press Editor
Glacier County approved entering into an agreement with the Montana Department of Administration (DOA) and the Montana Department of Revenue (DOR) at their meeting on May 26. The agreement allows county officials to access state funds, which are currently being withheld, but only after the County meets very specific conditions.
Chief Financial Officer Chancy Kittson explained that Glacier County believes it has overpaid the State of Montana. This has led, in part, to the County’s present financial situation. Contracted consultant Magda Nelson of Kalispell is working with Treasurer Don Wilson to substantiate the County’s assertion it is owed funds from the State of Montana. State officials deny the County’s claim, said Kittson, who attended the meeting via phone.
According to the agreement, the Governor’s Office received comments from numerous Glacier County residents after the Commissioners furloughed Glacier County Sheriff’s Office and Emergency Medical Services personnel in early April. That action by area residents prompted the DOR to agree to “temporarily release” up to $1.2 million in Entitlement Share and Oil and Gas Payments “to restore and maintain essential emergency and public safety services…”
Under the agreement, before receiving any funds, the County must complete the following:
•Submit to DOA a detailed plan to restore and maintain essential emergency services and other public safety services for the period of March 25 through Nov. 30. The plan must be approved by DOA.
•The County must first pay for the expenditures outlined in the plan using “existing County funds.” The County must provide receipts and/or documentation as requested.
•Once expenditures incurred reach $100,000, DOR will release the payment to the County. If the payment includes additional money for schools or other taxing entities, the County will have two business days to disburse the funds.
•If the County does not provide satisfactory documentation as requested by DOR, then DOR may withhold additional money, up to the amount paid to the County under this agreement.
•All correspondence and notices from and to the County shall be sent to the County Attorney, County Treasurer, Clerk and Recorder, County Supt. of Schools, Chief Finance Officer and the County Commissioners.
Glacier County Commission Chairman Michael DesRosier asked Kittson to clarify what “essential services” includes. “It’s not specific to just public safety, there is going to be come flexibility,” said Kittson during the May 26 meeting. He said he expected essential services would include not only the sheriff’s office, health department and EMS (limited), but also the county attorney, courts and facilities.
But Kittson learned that is not the case. (See related story.) Under the agreement DOA is limiting reimbursable expenses to the following three departments: Glacier County Sheriff’s Office, Glacier County Health Department and Glacier County Disaster and Emergency Services.