County ponders opportunity to again ask voters for jail funds (copy)

Inmates are transferred from the courthouse across a skywalk to the Lewis and Clark County Detention Center in this IR file photo.

Lewis and Clark County plans to increase its annual spending by $15.4 million for the 2018-19 fiscal year, largely to account for jail construction and new staff. 

With Commissioner Susan Good Giese excused from the meeting, the county commission unanimously approved its $97 million budget on a 2-0 vote Thursday. Fiscal year 2018-19 started this month and runs through June 2019. 

Commission Chair Andy Hunthausen said "we save what we need," about the budget. "We're frugal, and when we need more money we ask the voters' permission."

The $15.4 million jump over the 2017-18 budget is an increase of 18.6 percent.  

The county's expenditures are concentrated in salaries and operations and maintenance, which account for nearly 60 percent of the budget.

The county is projecting that the expansion of the Lewis and Clark County Detention Center, which is slated to start later this year, will cost around $7.5 million. In 2016 voters approved a $6.5 million general obligation bond to transform all three floors of the detention center into jail space, and County Finance Director Nancy Everson said the county will add another $1 million from its capital detention center fund.

In addition to the jail, other new expenses will include another 23 positions the county is seeking to fill. A new communications director, deputy county attorney, part-time justice of the peace and 15 detention officers are on the list of desired hires, a vast expansion for the currently understaffed jail. 

Revenue in the county is projected to come it at nearly $80 million this year. Of that amount, the county expects a 3.32 percent growth in tax revenue, a $729,330 jump.

Everson said the difference between revenues and expenditures will be made up with capital reserves, which are funds the county carries over from prior years.

County Administrator Roger Baltz said on Thursday the $80 million revenue estimate was "conservative." Baltz also said the budget fits the commission's goals and aspirations, including developing a "culture of customer service," "effective long range planning" and "efficiently and effectively" managing public resources. 

On the operations and maintenance side, the county will be working on flood mitigation in the Helena Valley, as well as other projects. 

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