The Cut Bank Interna-tional Airport could close as early as next month if the FY 2019-20 funding from Glacier County is not received before the end of the month. In addition to the loss of necessary medical and business services if the airport closes, Glacier County and the City of Cut Bank could be on the hook for nearly $8 million for projects completed utilizing federal grant funds.
“If we fail, the City and County get hammered,” said David Anderson, Secretary of the Cut Bank Airport Authority (CBAA).
The CBAA took action at their meeting on March 17 instructing City Attorney Robert Smith to prepare an official complaint and submit it to the Montana Attorney General’s office alleging all three County Commissioners as well as Clerk and Recorder Mandi Kennerly, Treasurer Don Wilson and CFO Chancy Kittson committed official misconduct by failing to levy the necessary mills to fund the airport for FY 2019-20.
According to the CBAA, Glacier County officials failed to levy 3.07 mills, or some $85,000 in funding, on this year’s tax bill.
Anderson said he notified County officials in October when he discovered the omission of the airport’s funding while reviewing the County budget on the Department of Administration’s website, which was prior to the printing of the tax bills last fall.
City Attorney Robert Smith suggested in a meeting with the Commissioners and City and Airport officials, the tax bills be reprinted to correct the omission. Glacier County officials declined but said they would use money from the general fund to provide funding for the airport.
Glacier County’s funding of the airport–or lack of it–was discussed during the March 16 City Council meeting. Smith reminded the Council members that Glacier County officials assured City and airport representatives–on two separate occasions–they would “find” the money to keep the airport operating.
According to the approved Oct. 31 Commissioner meeting minutes, Kennerly told Rick Geiger of the CBAA “the mill issue” was being taken care of, but the CBAA would only “get the value of 2 mills” which is approximately $53,000.
In the Nov. 14 approved Commissioner meeting minutes, DesRosier told Smith, “we are aware of the oversight” and the County will “be providing the mills from our County Non-Levied General Levies.”
“They haven’t kept their word and I don’t trust them to keep their word,” said Smith. He explained to the council possible scenarios to keep the airport operating, including additional funding from outside or private sources, loan from the City or legal action.
Glacier County Attorney Terryl Matt emailed Anderson on the evening of March 16 asking if the CBAA and CFO Kittson had worked out a proposal to present to the Commissioners. Anderson responded on March 17 that Kittson had not contacted the CBAA since they met in February.
At 4:18 p.m. on March 17, Kittson emailed Anderson proposing the “County will commit to $10,000 per month for the months of April through June,” adding a discussion in May “would be prudent.”
Anderson reported the offer to the CBAA at their meeting later than night. Council President Tim Curtiss and councilman Erik Nelson, along with State Sen. Bruce Gillespie, also attended the meeting.
After much discussion, the board members instructed Anderson to contact Kittson to accept the three $10,000 monthly payments, stressing the County is still required to fund the Airport with the remaining $55,600 as required by state law and the joint resolution which created the CBAA.
They also asked Smith to prepare a complaint against County officials that would be submitted to the Attorney General’s Office for investigation.
The City of Cut Bank will submit a letter as part of the complaint being filed by Smith outlining the “public health crisis” that will result should the airport be forced to close due to the Glacier County’s failure to fund airport operations.
Sen. Gillespie said he will contact and update the Department of Justice (DOJ) on the issue and was authorized to set up a meeting with DOJ and Anderson.