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The Pondera County Commissioners discussed and then gave final approval to the Fiscal Year 2020-21 budget at a meeting on Aug. 26. No members of the public turned out for the final budget hearing and no written comments from county residents were received. How will this year’s budget impact Pondera County taxpayers’ wallets? There will be a slight increase in taxes, but county officials assured they worked diligently to keep expenditures down during the four-month budgeting process.

The county-wide assessed value of Pondera County this fiscal year is $778,270,934, which is down approximately $20 million from last fiscal year’s value of $808,285,526. The County’s taxable valuation is listed as $17,189,869 by the State of Montana. The value of a county-wide mill is down approximately $300 to $17,189.87, while the rural mill is now valued at $13,608.85. 

According to Commission Chairman Tom Kuka, county officials learned from Assessor Carol Neal the decrease in value was the result of several issues. Kuka said structures came off the county tax rolls for a variety of reasons, including demolition, loss due to fire as well as some decreasing in value.

A change in state law regarding the tax calculation of mobile homes also had an impact on the taxable value of Pondera County, continued Kuka. The new rule now exempts some mobile homes due to their age and value. 

Finally, the County officials were forced to abate taxes on several centrally assessed and other properties due to settlements with the State of Montana, reducing the tax consequence of those properties.

County department heads submitted their preliminary budgets in May and June and then Commissioners Kuka, Dale Seifert and Jim Morren, along with Clerk and Recorder Kody Farkell spend the next three months formulating the final budget.

The County’s total budget for FY 2020-2021 is $14,939,288, with $9,315,162 being levied funds and $5,624,126 being non-levied funds. The non-levied funds include the funding of $992,781 expenditures with Payment In Lieu of Taxes (PILT) money.

The Pondera County General Fund budget is $2,142,951, or 63.92 mills, this fiscal year. Kuka said one of the County’s biggest expenditures each year is the Road Department, which maintains approximately 800 miles of County roads each year. He noted the County will be updating equipment, including the leased road graders, this year. Crushed gravel is also a big ticket item for the County. Kuka recalled the County paid $5.71 per yard, which was the low bid, for 60,000 yards of crushed gravel last year.

The Public Safety budget was set at $1,170,598, which equates to 30 mills. The County is budgeting $490,200 for Group Health insurance or approximately 11 mills.

The Valier Cemetery District No. 1 budget includes the regular levy of $59,322 plus the voted levy of $17,178 for a total budget of $76,500.

The Commissioners approved $305,120 for County libraries and four mills or $87,585 to fund the operations of the Pondera Regional Port Authority.

Kuka reminds taxpayers the local airport is a hub of activity and will only get busier when fuel sales begin later this month. The airport does not receive any tax dollars, but is instead funded by revenue through leases and other revenue-generating services. The improvements made to the airport are done with Federal Aviation Administration grants, which cover 90 percent of the project costs. The County must provide a 10 percent match, he explained.

This year’s budget includes a three percent cost-of-living and wage increase for all regular employees and elected officials.

A copy of the adopted budget is available for pubic review from the Pondera County Clerk and Recorder’s Office.

Taxpayers should remember their tax bills include not only Pondera County levies but also state, city and/or town, school districts and other special districts such as cemeteries and the rural fire district. With a quick review of your tax bill, taxpayers can see how much of their tax dollars go to the different taxing authorities. 

County residents are reminded those taxing authorities set and approve their budgets, not the Pondera County Commissioners.

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