By CHANSE WATSON
WALLACE — The Shoshone County Board of Commissioners released the final draft of the 2018-2019 budget earlier this month and it looks as though things are mostly headed in the right direction.
Shoshone County has dealt with its own little recession, which has lingered around — in one way or another — for decades after the bulk of the industry and population left the area when the mines closed down in the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s.
The numbers in this latest budget and the comments from the BOCC show that things may be on the upswing.
“Overall, my fellow commissioners and I are very pleased with the financial state of the county,” Commissioner Mike Fitzgerald said. “During our last audit, the auditor upgraded the financial health of the county from ‘Lower Good’ to ‘Good.”
On top of this positive news, the county’s overall net position (considering assets and liabilities) is “strong” and its cash position (or ability to pay the bills) has “greatly improved.”
Fitzgerald explains that these improvements are the result of providing steady fund balances over the last few years that are approaching (and within) acceptable amounts recommended by general accounting practices. “Those balances provide for financial stability, greater ability for the county to pay its bills, and flexibility/savings in purchasing goods and services.”
Looking at the bottom line, the budget shows that a total of $13,634,042 will be divided out to different county departments/areas/projects to pay employees and cover expenses. This total number is an increase of $833,530 from the previous year’s budget total of $12,800,512.
Of that $13,634,042, 49.5 percent is slated to go to three departments: roads ($3,238,629), sheriff’s office ($2,215,269) and solid waste ($1,305,758). These three led the way in allocated funding the previous year as well.
As for how all these numbers will affect the taxpayers, residents will be responsible for $4,463,295 of the total amount through levies/taxes. This will equal out to a 4.9 percent levy increase, or $6.60/per $100,000 in taxable property.
The top three departments that will rely on levy funds to make their budget are current expenses ($2,458,210), indigent ($506,448) and a tie between district court/juvenile justice and appraisal ($378,186).
Current expenses leads the way due to administrative costs (such as routine payroll, human resources and indigent expenses) being transferred into it.
Collectively receiving up to $750,000 per year, the largest contributors of these transferred administrative costs are roads, solid waste and indigent.
Fitzgerald explains that the increase in the levy was unavoidable due to rising and unexpected costs.
“The increase in taxes to our community (levy increase) is unfortunately a sign of the times,” he said. “As with everyone, the county and our employees are seeing increases around every corner.”
In next year’s budget, from a Shoshone County taxpayers perspective, the three major increases are due to:
• The general cost of goods, services and utilities necessary to keep the county lights on and doors open.
• A 3 percent cost-of-living-allowance (COLA) for employees to assist in offsetting general living expense increases.
• An additional sheriff’s deputy to serve as the Kellogg School District Resource Officer and add to enforcement at recreational rivers areas.
Unforeseen expenses from last year that also influenced the budget include an upgrade of the county’s computer systems, a significant loss of property tax revenue from Silver Mountain Resort, a financial clerical error with the solid waste department having to be covered, an increase in public defense contract costs, and a timing issue with PILT (grant) funding coming in after the budget was finalized.
Even with the new and unplanned expenses, Fitzgerald and the BOCC are pleased with the position the county is in looking forward.
“With the county’s finances trending in the right direction, the commissioners are not only meeting budgetary goals,” he said, “but the county is making major improvements to how we do business and how we provide services to our community.”
Using one of the aforementioned unplanned expenses as an example, Fitzgerald states that “by the end of 2018 the county’s backbone computer and software will be up to date and ready to move us into the future.”
“Depending on the system, the county’s technology was out of date anywhere from 15 to six years. Modernized systems that help us serve the community more efficiently include “paperless” court systems, property assessments, tax rolls, billings and payrolls,” he added.
As with any large budget, several intricacies come into play when analyzing it line-by-line.
How and when revenues are received, crossovers of interdepartmental administrative costs, and changing accounting regulations are all factors that aren’t readily apparent when looking at the line-item budget.
For example, funding to the roads department in the form of grants was delayed for two years. This forced the county to cover those costs during that time frame with money from another part of the budget. When the grant revenue arrived, it was utilized to cover the deficit in the part of the budget that was used to cover the road costs.
Fitzgerald says that he and the BOCC are happy to answer any and all questions regarding the county budget. Their office is located inside the Shoshone County Courthouse at 700 Bank St. in Wallace and can be reached by phone at 208-752-3331.