Yesterday I spent a little time talking about the $1.1 million that Missoula County is set to lose with the abolition of their 2-cent gas tax.
I got into some basics of the budget, mainly because I only used the 7-page budget summary.
Today I’d like to delve into the full budget, which is 471 pages. This is the most recent document, and covers the county’s finances up until July 2020.
We’ll talk about debt and budget shortfalls and the idea of what ‘revenue’ actually means.
I want to get right into what I was talking about yesterday, specifically the historical museum at Fort Missoula.
I’m sure this is a great place with great people and a great historical legacy to preserve.
But does it really have to cost so much money, and if so, why?
I actually screwed-up yesterday and just listed the personnel costs of the museum, which are $452,000 a year.
But when you add in operations, capital and debt you find the true annual cost is $671,000.
This for a county department that brings in just $19,000 in revenue each year.
But that’s not quite accurate, either. While that’s true on the revenue side, the department also brings in transfer-in payments, entitlement share, and property taxes. Add all that in, and the historical museum actually ‘makes’ $652,000 a year.
Again, that’s not quite accurate. Because the extra $633,000 in ‘revenue’ is really just the county transferring your tax dollars to this department from you, and from perhaps more important funding needs.
I mean, $491,000 of that extra ‘revenue’ comes from Missoula property taxpayers, in the form of their property tax payments.
The place has been open since 1975, sits on 32 acres, and watches over 13,000 historical items and 13 historical structures.
The place has 4 full-time employees and 3 part-timers that cost the county $452,000 a year with all the salary and fringe benefits and termination reserve, meaning each employee effectively costs $75,000 a year.
I’d like to focus on just one more county government department, this time Community and Planning Services.
This entity costs the county $1.8 million a year, with $1.2 million of that taken up by employee payroll.
I’m not really sure what this agency does. According to the county website, they strive to “maintain and enhance a quality of life that makes Missoula County an extraordinary place to live, work, and visit,” and they do this by collaborating “with residents, businesses and non-profits, Tribal and other government agencies to help direct the future of Missoula County and our communities.”
They focus on zoning, community planning, floodplains, acquiring grants, and overseeing the parks and trails, specifically those associated with the 2014 bond.
The agency brings in $1.5 million in revenue each year, mostly through transfer payments, and property taxes. The only non-governmental revenue is $117,000 a year.
Even accounting for that $1.5 million in ‘revenue,’ the agency still has a $366,000 budget shortfall each year.
It’s very difficult to see who the people working for this agency are, or what they’re paid. This is not by mistake - many years ago, the city stopped using people’s names in financial documents and gave them a number.
So we know that someone or some business named 2253.500.263.470501.357.90171 that earned $120,000 last year for “contracted services.”
What were those services, and who was the person or business or government entity that provided them?
Missoula County doesn’t want you to know.
Just by looking at these two departments in our local county government, we find that they’re costing taxpayers nearly $400,000 more each year than they bring in.
And when we say ‘bring in,’ we’re really talking about your tax money as revenue - the actual revenues they produce from sales and services is miniscule.
But is it the local government’s job to be economically self-sufficient? Or is it instead to provide a certain level of goods and services, which might cost them more than they actually have? Can you have both?
Missoula's argument right now is they have to provide a certain level of service, costs be damned, and that’s why Missoula County wants to raise property taxes, not cut spending.
If just two of the departments we looked at are costing more than they’re making, it’s a good bet that most of them are in the same boat.
That’s why the county is $17 million in the hole each year.
A large part of this is the $7.9 million the county currently has to pay out each year to service its debts. But even if you get rid of that, the county is still short about $10 million.
Raising property taxes by 1-2%, or even 5%, isn’t going to solve that problem.
The problem isn’t on the revenue side; it’s spending.
It’s funny, because I don’t ever remember seeing that $17 million budget shortfall number in any local media reports, say the newspaper or TV or radio news.
Why is that?
Why is it that none of the paid local media personalities will look into the county’s finances on the day the county learns they’ll lose $1.1 million in new tax revenue and have to come up with a solution?
Why are none of these ‘journalists’ following the money and telling Missoulians the truth?
You shouldn't have to read it hear, and trust me, 99% of Missoulians won’t. They simply don’t know this site exists, and most aren’t interested in this stuff anyway.
So they’ll continue to walk around in the world of make-believe that their county ‘leaders’ have foisted upon them, all the while oblivious to the truth that the county is in dire financial straits with no idea how to get out of them.