County Must Plan for Future
Looking to the future – anticipating what space will be needed and figuring out a strategy of how the county will be prepared to meet those needs, is a primary focus of the coming year’s budget, for Director of Finance Kevan Bryan.
While Yellowstone County has accomplished much over the past two years in meeting substantial demand for space there will be demand for more space and adjustments in the future, said Bryan. To successfully rise to that challenge without having to raise taxes requires planning budgets now, and to start addressing those needs in FY 2019-20. Bryan said that the proposed budget he is presenting to county commissioners this week recommends the movement of discretionary mills that will “allow us to focus dollars where best needed, while retaining flexibility for future fiscal years.”
This week’s itinerary for the commissioners and most county department heads has been a daily series of scheduled discussions involving every nook and cranny of county government and what will be needed to be done in the next year – and beyond.
“…we wish we didn’t have to …recommend continuing to spend on these issues,” said Bryan, “But they did not develop overnight, and it is clear they are not going away. Ignoring or delaying continued efforts will just cost more down the road, collapse our window of getting this done the right way vs. in a crisis mode, and likely compel us to need additional help from our taxpayers.”
Looming as the biggest challenge are infrastructure needs for Metra Park. During the past year the commissioners authorized an assessment of what those needs will be. Bryan urged tackling the list of needs that were identified in that assessment, beginning in the coming year. “This addresses underground issues fsor power, water, waste water, data – what is broken down and what needs to be upgraded. Remaining needs there are significant, and in our view remain largely unfunded as are many items that may be on this Board’s or the Metra Board’s wish list for enhancements on that campus.”
Bryan noted that the county “has successfully moved several departments into the Stillwater Building, and we have remodeled the 4th Floor of the Courthouse for District Court use. But I dare say we are not even halfway through what needs to be done…It will take a multi-year effort, and you will see in this budget that we are working to advance that.”
Bryan said that in the next five or six years, the commissioners will need to commit to a long-term path for the occupancy issues the county will face. “We can extend our lease here at Stillwater, including more square footage; we can look at an already-discussed option to purchase two floors in a condo arrangement; or we can look at the possibility of removing the old ‘round building’ previously occupied by the Sheriff and build a new office structure.”
Bryan said that his budget draft proposes more work on the Courthouse, and allowing for the eventual movement of others to the Stillwater Building. “In our judgement, that work must begin in FY20, and will likely not be completed soon.” The plan addresses anticipated needs of Justice Court, Clerk of the District Court, the County Attorney, “and yes,” eventually more space for district Court.
The detention facility, while nearing final completion of what was approved two years ago, by the county commissioners, uncovered unstable underground waste lines that are being fixed, still has needs. Sheriff Mike Linder is asking for an expansion and remodel to the booking and administration area of the facility to make it more secure. If his request is approved, said Bryan, the expenditure will consume what is left of the Sheriff’s capital improvement fund. “But, with that done and the relatively new headquarters down the street plus the State’s and County’s financial commitment to the new morgue, the Sheriff should be in the best ‘facility shape’ in perhaps three decades, and set for many, many years to come,” said Bryan.
Bryan presented a list of the diversion of funds that have happened this year and that he proposes for next year, to shift available funds to higher priority needs. They include for FY 2019-20:
—$500,000 from the bridge fund to Metra Park’s Capital Improvement Program (CIP);
— $53,500 from the Weed Fund to Metra’s CIP;
—$106,800 from the Liability Fund with $35,600 going to the Extension Fund, and $71,200 to the Museums.
For FY 2020-21 the proposed shifts are:
—$500,000 from the FY2019 Bridge Fund to the General Fund;
—$700,000 from the Liability Fund to the General Fund;
—Continued $71,200 from the Liability Fund to the Museums;
—Discontinue diversion from the Weed Fund and diversion to the Extension Fund.
In assessing the health of the various departments or funds in county government, a useful barometer is their level of reserves. Sound fiscal policy includes having reserves at capacity, which by state law is set at a maximum of 30 percent of each fund’s total budget. Many reserve fund balances dropped as the heavy capital improvement projects of the past couple of years made demands upon them, but they are recovering.
Anticipating a total county budget of about $116.5 million, reserves for all county funds totals $57 million, which is slightly below past levels which ranged as high as $61.5 million.
According to Bryan agencies with full reserves for FY 2020 are:
—Mental Health Fund
Those close to being fully reserved are:
—Public Safety (Sheriff)
—Public Safety (County Attorney)
(The probability, given crime rates and demand on those two agencies, that their reserves will decline.)
County departments that are short on reserves are:
—Metra Park Capital Improvement Program
—Lockwood Pedestrian Safety District