Governor Gianforte signed a bill that stripped Missoula County of its ability to levy a 2 cent tax on every gallon of gasoline sold.
Missoula County now says it’ll likely raise property taxes to make up for the $1.1 million that it’s now going to lose. Here’s how the city’s propaganda department puts it:
“With the tax no longer permitted, the city and county of Missoula must look for ways to cover the $1.1 million in lost revenue. As it stands, county officials said there’s only one option, and that’s an increase in property taxes.”
I decided to take a quick look at the Missoula County Budget.
The county is spending $188 million this year and it’s taking in $171 million.
The county’s budget doesn’t lie - they’re spending $17 million more each year than they’re taking in.
So really, the $1.1 million they’re set to lose isn’t really the issue. The main issue is that the county is spending too much money.
One of the big problems is that nearly $8 million of the budget is taken up each year just to service the county’s debt, meaning pay a lot of interest and a bit of principle.
Most of that debt - $1.7 million - is associated with the library bonds, which voters passed.
I think when you go through the budget line-by-line, you see where the county’s priorities are, what’s important to them.
For instance, we’re spending $4.5 million to redevelop the fairgrounds, but only $80,000 on child daycare.
Maybe if there was more spending on daycare, more parents could rejoin the workforce, helping to ameliorate the terrible worker shortage, while also increasing county tax revenues.
But it’s more important to do things like spend $3.3 million to get a new elections office on Russell Street.
What was wrong with the old one? Nothing, except it’s location at the fairgrounds, which needs to be redeveloped for butterflies.
Of course, like most budgets, it’s the employees that are costing us the most, in this case nearly $71 million a year.
Do we need all of these people on the payroll?
Some of the numbers are glaring. For instance, I’m sure controlling local weeds is important...but do we need to spend $646,000 each year to have people do that?
And while I think it’s justified that we spend $420,000 a year on health insurance for our county employees, is it really necessary to spend $452,000 a year to keep the historical museum staffed?
The place is open just 4 hours a day.
Seems more like a pet project than an actual need. What kind of revenue are we getting for that expenditure?
The budget tells us - a paltry $19,000.
Talk about a return on an investment, eh? Perhaps those folks should play a larger role in the county’s finances.
Overall, the revenue side isn’t really favorable to the county. They make most of their money via property taxes, or $48 million a year.
“Other Revenue” accounts for $88 million a year from various sources, the most profitable of which is the Partnership Health Center, which brings in $31 million of that, or 35%.
I just think Missoula is really pissing in the wind on this one, trying to blame anyone and everything for what’s ultimately their problem - living beyond their means.
One of the selling-points of the gas tax was that tourists would pay it, but it turns out locals paid $650,000 last year while tourists paid just $450,000.
We spend more money to keep a museum staffed that’s barely open and that hardly anyone visits.
It’s unfortunate we don’t have any leaders in this county that are able to see the truth, read a budget, and fix the problems.
It’s even more unfortunate that we have voters that put up with it.