The Teton County Commissioners on Sept. 9 adopted the 2021-22 county final budget with no changes from the preliminary draft made available for public review.
The commissioners opened the public hearing on the budget on Aug. 19 and closed it on Sept. 9. Commissioners said no member of the public submitted any comments in person, in writing or online.
The new budget covers the county’s revenue and expenses from July 1 of this year to June 30, 2022.
The final budget will levy 130.16 countywide property-tax mills, compared to 116.66 countywide mills levied last year, generating $2,733,100 in tax revenue.
The increase in mills is directly related to a drop in the value of the county mill. The county mill value, determined by the Montana Department of Revenue, dropped from $22,412 last year to $20,998 this fiscal year. The commissioners said they believe the drop in the mill value of $1,414 reflects appeals of their taxable valuation filed by large utilities like railroads, pipelines and power companies that are “centrally assessed.” The drop in the mill value means the county has to levy more mills to raise the same amount of money that it did last year.
In addition to the 130.16 mills levied on all county residents, including those who live in Choteau, Fairfield and Dutton, the county will also levy 28.05 mills on property owners who live outside of the three incorporated towns for county road work. Last year, the levy for the Road Department was 25.2 mills, but the value of the road mill also fell from $18,587 last year to $17,108 this year.
The commissioners also approved a new one-year contract with the Teamsters Union Local No. 2, which represents the dispatchers and deputies in the Sheriff’s Office.
The one-year contract, which will run from July 1, 2021, to June 30, 2022, grants deputies raises based on the sheriff’s salary, which was increased 5% this year. Sheriff Keith VanSetten said deputies would receive raises of $1.10 to $1.40 per hour under the contract, plus a 1% longevity raise of about $.20 an hour.
The dispatchers received a $1 per hour raise (as did most non-unionized county employees) plus a $.20 per hour longevity raise.
The new contract raises the uniform allowance for full-time deputies from $400 a year to $500 a year. VanSetten agreed to work on creating a matrix that would provide hourly raises for deputies based on training they completed to improve their law enforcement skills.
The union had asked the county to consider making a contribution of $7.24 per deputy per month into the Teamsters Legal Defense Fund, which would provide deputies legal representation for actions arising from their on-duty and off-duty activities.
The commissioners said the county budget, because of the drop in the mill value, was too tight to even consider the legal defense fund contribution request.
The commissioners met again on Sept. 16 and listened to a brief presentation on the Montana Department of Transportation’s projects on U.S. Highway 89 in 2023-2025.
Laura Langdon, a consultant working with the MDT on the U.S. Highway 89 rebuild, said three projects are scheduled in the next five four years: the northern segment (about 7 miles north of Choteau to the Choteau city limits) set for construction I 2023, south of Choteau for the Freezout Lake North segment set for construction in 2024 and the section immediately south of Choteau set for construction in 2025.
Most of the design work on the northern segment is done, she said, while about 60% of the design on the Freezout Lake section is done and only 30% of the design is done on the Choteau south segment, she said.
The MDT at this time is not planning to rehabilitate the highway as it goes through the city of Choteau, Langdon said. MDT plans to hopscotch over the city.
Commissioner Joe Dellwo said the Choteau Mayor has talked with him several times about his desire to have the Choteau main street included in this project, but talks have broken down based on issues with the city’s water mains beneath Main Avenue and the state’s desire to replace the city’s angle parking with parallel parking.
Dellwo said he hopes the city and MDT can come to an agreement that would include renovating Main Avenue.
Langdon said MDT is hosting an open house in Choteau at the Alice Gleason meeting room in the Choteau-Teton Public Library on Sept. 29 from 5 to 7 p.m. to give landowners and area residents the chance to talk with engineers about the project.
The commissioners said they would like to see safer pullouts for bird watchers at the Freezout Lake Wildlife Management Area between Choteau and Fairfield.
Langdon said the preliminary plan calls for extra wide shoulders rather than pullouts. The basic design for the highway improvements already calls for increasing the shoulder width by four feet on both traffic lanes, she noted.
Dellwo said Choteau resident Dave Shea has proposed a pullout to access the east side of Priest Butte (on the west side of the highway). Currently the butte, which sits on state land, is accessed on the west side via a gravel county road.
County Road Superintendent Alan Gagne said he doesn’t want the project to disturb the road bed as it goes between the lakes at the Freezout complex to prevent any difficulties with keeping the pavement there in this boggy area.
Langdon said another part of the project is a new bridge over the Teton River south of Choteau.
In other business in September, the commissioners:
•Renewed the county’s contract with the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services to accept funding of $137,260 for the state’s Women, Infants and Children (WIC) health and nutrition program.
•Approved an amendment to the Teton County Health Department’s contract with DPHHS for the county’s Public Health Emergency Preparedness program of $69,081 to fund an additional public health nurse position.
•Retroactively approved a resolution between Teton County and the Montana Attorney General’s Office under which the county will turn over the prosecution for deliberate homicide of Erin Elliot Holcomb to special prosecutors with the AG’s office.
•Appointed Kevin Heinle of Fairfield to the Teton County Cemetery District Board, replacing Jim Dauwalder, who resigned.
•Renewed a contract with the Montana Office if Public Assistance to provide space in the courthouse basement for regular outreach services from OPA.