Decreasing property values forcing Ravalli Co. to make cuts


HAMILTON, Mont. - Ravalli County has a new distinction.

It leads the state in decreased property values.

The Department of Revenue said in 2016, the county can expect a 15 to 20% decrease in property tax revenue.

If it's 15%, that's $1 million to meet the 2016 projections.

County departments will be scrambling to figure out how to make due with less.

Commissioners recommended biting the bullet now.

They're requesting a 3 to 5% decrease in day to day operations for fiscal year 2015.

Ravalli County currently has $13 million in salaries, operations and maintenance.

Of that money, salaries make up $9 million.

"Where do you cut a million," asked Chief Financial Officer, Klarryse Murphy. "If you cut if off of operations, you're cutting by one-third,"she said. " If you cut it off of your people it's going to be a cumulative effect."

The news caught many county workers off guard.

Department heads have been meeting with commissioners over their preliminary budgets.

Now, it's back to the drawing board.

For several years, Ravalli County Sheriff Chris Hoffman, has been asking for more manpower to meet escalating crime.

He's been asking for two deputies over a 5 year period.

"I don't expect obviously in light of the news that something magical is going to happen," said the sheriff. "In fact I'm guessing that we'll probably have to fight to keep the manpower that we do have."

Over the next two years, said Hoffman,"we'll have to find a way to continue the level of service that we do provide, potentially with less money."

Wednesday morning, NBC Montana saw a line of department heads worried about budget cuts.

County extension agents will have a new challenge reviewing their preliminary budget again.

"All of us are already on a shoestring," said Extension Agent, Katelyn Andersen,"and we know that we need to decrease 3 to 5%. It's got to come from somewhere," said Andersen. "And we want to maintain quality services."

Public Health Director Judy Griffin has already made serious cuts.

Her department will maintain a 5 day schedule with essential public health staff on duty.

But most of her staff's hours are being reduced.

However, you can't control all expenses, said Griffin.

For instance, she said, "I don't have control of the cost of our vaccines."

Commissioner Greg Chilcott expected a reduction in tax revenue assessments.

The last state appraisals were done right before the recession.

"Especially in Ravalli County," said Chilcott, "we saw the assessments very high for what was happening in the market."

"The commission board must adopt a preliminary budget by Monday," he said.

Budget hearings will continue through the week.