“We’re here to help you, not to be an obstacle,” stated Cheryl Grey, Administrator of the State Financial Services Division, Thursday, April 18, during a meeting between Glacier County officials and four officials from the Montana Department of Administration (DOA). The meeting was not listed on the commissioners’ meeting agenda, but their visit was no surprise to county officials. The DOA team was in town to review the progress Glacier County is making on the Corrective Action Plan it submitted to DOA in response to findings in the FY 2015-16 audit.
In addition to Grey, DOA staff members who were in town to meet with county department heads and employees included: Cody Pearce, State Accountant and Bureau Chief of the State Accounting Bureau; Darla Erickson, Accountant with the Accounting and Management Systems Section; and Chet McLean, Financial Operations Supervisor in the Audit Review Section of DOA.
“We’re here to help you get your house in order so you can be successful,” continued Grey. “You have a cash problem,” she stated, and then asked Glacier County Commissioners Michael DesRosier, Tom McKay and John Overcast how they were going to deal with a $6 million cash problem, when their total annual budget is approximately $10 million.
“There needs to be specific action taken,” Grey continued, “And there are some tough decisions that have to be made…You can’t keep doing what you’re doing.”
The commissioners will need to take action to “recover” the overspent cash over the next three years, which amounts to cutting some $2 million per year for the next three years.
“What services are you not going to have?” the commissioners were asked.
“This is a real hard situation,” said Grey. “You must make hard decisions.”
The DOA team pointed out Glacier County has had “five months” to make decisions and then were told that a new legislative bill, Senate Bill 302, would allow for a receiver to be appointed to make decisions for local governments in the same situation Glacier County currently finds itself in.
“If you don’t make these hard decisions, you won’t be managing your county.”
Grey stated, “This breaks my heart. The citizens love it here; they want to be here. Hard decisions have to be made, sooner rather than later. How are you going to get $6 million? It’s not going to take care of itself.”
McLean told the Glacier County Commissioners and Glacier County Attorney Terryl Matt that DOA and the State of Montana are “putting more effort into Glacier County than any other entity.”
Matt responded that Glacier County “is not just ignoring this.”
McLean referred to the paragraph in the FY 2015-16 audit, “Substantial Doubt about the County’s Ability to Continue as a Going Concern.”
He told those at the meeting, “You just don’t see that” in an audit, adding, “what the auditor is saying is, you guys are going to be gone in the next year. It really is that serious.”
Grey reiterated, “We want this county to succeed,” and pointed out again DOA is investing a tremendous amount of manpower and resources in assisting Glacier County.
The State of Montana and DOA has committed to sending two to four people to Glacier County for up to three days per month for training and “formal presentations” from now through October. Topics to be covered include: the preliminary budget, the audit and post audit corrective action plan, mill levies and the final budget, the annual financial report and the preparation of the county’s tax bills.
McLean told the Commissioners the first thing they need to do is “figure out what you have for cash.”
Pearce asked, “What capital assets can you sell?” She also inquired if there were any buildings/offices that could be consolidated and if the county owned the building that houses the satellite office in Browning. Clerk and Recorder Mandi Kennerly informed those at the meeting the county pays monthly rent of $1,000 for the space.
Commissioner McKay commented the majority of the people in the county live on the west end and the county could “close this building.”
The DOA team pointed out the three areas of greatest concern when it came to deficit spending: general government, public safety and EMS.
“There are things you can do; things you can’t do; and things you don’t want to do,” said McLean. He suggested Glacier County follow the lead of Ravalli County, which had a similar situation with its Treasurer’s Office a few years ago. “The elected officials got together and all worked together…it must be a team effort.”
Human Resource Officer Mike Kittson stated, “We have to move forward,” adding there are tough decisions to be made and some people are “probably going to lose their jobs.”
Although there is a “lot of unfortunate history, there is interest in helping you,” said Grey.
Commissioner DesRosier said “there is no interest locally in helping us” and claimed local residents are “pushing” for Glacier County to be put in receivership.
Local citizen Linda Luther disagreed with DesRosier. She stated, “No one wants us to go into receivership and we don’t want people to lose their jobs. This situation is a mess and I don’t know how we are going to fix it but we need to.”
DOA officials were scheduled to conduct training sessions on Friday with elected officials at the courthouse. They will be back next month to provide budget training and information.