Tech Crowds Yellowstone County Budget
Technology costs will take their toll on budgets for Yellowstone County government in the coming fiscal year. Looking at expenditures for a wide range of technology needs, the total will reach between $750,000 and $900,000, projected Yellowstone County Director of Finance Kevan Bryan.
As department heads met with Yellowstone County Commissioners, last week, to review their budgets for FY 2019-20, almost all noted increased appropriations for updating technology. The needs range from new computers to networking capacity, cloud storage, and server hardware, as well as, cell phones, licensing Microsoft programs, and VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol), and other program upgrades.
The jump in expenditures in the coming year is a one-time aberration for the budget with the aim of setting future needs on course to be a more steady and more predictable annual cost, which will keep the entire county current in its technology needs. “We are playing a little bit of catch-up,” said Bryan. “It gets us caught up to maintain and systematically replace our technology.” In the future technology costs for the county should “smooth out and normalize.”
Bryan said that the IT Department has done a great job on a tight budget, but at times they seemed “slightly out of breath trying to catch up with some of the needs. Hopefully, in the future, they will be in a spot in which they won’t be using bailing wire and chewing gum.”
In the future, the cost of meeting technology needs for the county will even out to something closer to about $225,000 annually.
Updating some 500 computers – some more than ten years old — is being done in phases so in the future, equipment replacement will be done by department, on a rotating basis. But, a new annual cost will be added to the budget every year, because Microsoft is shifting to selling their programs on a subscription basis, a license which must be renewed each year. That will add $240 per computer in annual cost for an estimated total cost of $120,000 to the county’s budget.
In total, the county’s 2019-20 budget is expected to be about the same as last year’s, at about $116.6 million.
Bryan told county commissioners that he prepared the proposed budget assuming an overall increase in revenue projects of about 2.42 percent, which includes a rate of inflation allowance and projected growth in the county’s tax base.
Bryan said that with property valuations for the county still unknown, his projections conservatively anticipated no increase in property tax revenues. Valuations from the Department of Revenue are not due until August 5.
Growth in entitlement funding from the State of Montana increased slightly more than 3.75 percent.
The final budget must be adopted by the County Commissioners by the later, of the first Thursday following the first Tuesday in September or 30 days after the State of Montana provides certified taxable values.
Many aspects of the preliminary budget are not yet known, such as salary and benefit costs which are still in negotiations with the unions. With that unknown, Bryan said that he used estimations reflecting the rate of inflation in his projections.
Requests to increase staff have been made by several departments. The Sheriff’s Department submitted proposals to add four new detention officers, two additional patrol deputies; and a civil process server. The County Attorney’s office is requesting an additional supervisor in Justice Court. GIS is requesting the addition of one new technician and the Finance office is planning a reduction of a half position.
To account for property tax revenues that may not be received, primarily due to protested taxes, each department’s budget has been calculated in anticipation of receiving 4 percent less than revenue projections would anticipate. That safe-guard has been estimated substantially lower than last year’s estimate of 7.2 percent, primarily because of the CHS refinery’s agreement not to protest taxes in the coming year.
Projected budgets for some of the departments and funds are:
County Commissioners’ office, $515,569; Liability & Property, $974,409; Lockwood Pedestrian Safety District, $294,496; Predatory Animal Fund, $622; Blight Abatement, $66,000; Junk Vehicles, $214,600; Soil Conservation, $155,700; Elections, $544,000; Finance, $639,169; County Planning, $513,000; Laurel Planning, $84,000; Extension, $355,850; Veteran’s Cemetery, $161,183, Public Health, $2.7 million; Public Safety Mental Health, $1.2 million; Senior Citizens, $1.6 million; Permissive Medical Levy, $4.3 million; Clerk of District Court, $1.4 million; Justice Court, $1.75 million; and County Treasurer/Supt. of Schools, $1.48 million.
Weed Control Fund, $395,000 – Joe Lockwood who heads the department proposed spending $100,000 to build a 40×40 foot addition to house equipment, which would better protect it and save money in the long-term.
Metra Park, $4.9 million which includes $1.9 million in tax revenues and $5.4 million in revenue from other sources. Revenues to Metra are expected to strengthen some due to capturing all of the revenues from naming rights and signs. Metra Park also has a capital improvement fund which is projected to be almost $5 million, including tax revenues, other revenue and reserves. In discussions about the budget for Metra Park in the coming year, the emphasis was on needing to tackle infrastructure needs as identified in a recent study, for power, water, waste water and data, to the tune of $2 million to $4 million. Much of the need stands largely unfunded at the time. However, stated Bryan, “ignoring them will just cost more down the road….and, it would require needing additional help from taxpayers which we don’t want to do.”
County Attorney, $5.2 million. Passage of the public safety levy a year ago “bought a lot of time,” but in two to three years the demands on the County Attorney’s office will require a return to diverting general fund revenue to the department. At mid-year the department plans to add one attorney.
Clerk and Recorder/Surveyor Department, $633,000. Clerk and Recorder Jeff Martin said that he added this year a budget item to replace some furniture which hasn’t been replaced in 10-20 years. The county procurement officer located 500 chairs at 50 percent off and he plans to replace them all. Martin noted that “records preservation” is moving away from micro-filming and relying increasingly on digitizing documents. He also noted that the cost of death certificates, which is set by the state, dropped to $3 each after having been $5; and birth certificates have increased from $5 to $8. The County department gets a portion of each sale.
Auditor’s Office — $226,477. Auditor Scott Turner noted that his telephone and technology budget will “basically triple, because of network changes, licensing and Mircrosoft.” “It’s an increase of almost $5000 for something I can’t control.”
Museums, $717,130 — $172,283 to Yellowstone Art Museum; $206,739 to Western Heritage Museum; $165,491 to Yellowstone County Museum; and $82,696 to the Huntley Project Museum. Commissioner John Ostlund urged strong consideration from the other commissioners to accept an offer from the Yellowstone County Museum Board to help fund the building of a secure storage building in which to store the museum’s artifacts, which are the property of the county. Ostlund pointed out that that museum is owned by the County, as are the artifacts; while the county owns the Western Heritage building the artifacts are a private collection; and the YAM is not a county museum nor is the art work.
The Sheriff’s Department has several divisions to its budget of $23.7 million. Administration is $585,500; Coroner is $515,000; Detectives, $1.4 million; Patrol, $5 million; Civil $400,000; Records, $650,000; and miscellaneous categories including dispatch, capital replacement and reserves, $2.77 million.
Youth Services, $2.9 million. It’s been a “rough year for Youth Services,” said Director Valerie Weber – up until the last three months, when admissions picked up and has been running almost at full capacity. Her department depends largely upon revenue from per diem payments from agencies placing youth as they wait for the outcome of various processes having to do with protective services, legal proceedings, etc. The shelter is in need of major refurbishing, agreed the county commissioners. They seemed in agreement that proceeds generated with the sale of the house on Neptune Street (Horizon Home) that the county owns, which previously served the Tumbleweed program, would be well spent on refurbishing Youth Services.
Part of Public Works — Road Fund, $11.4 million; Bridge, $1.9 million. Public Works Director Tim Miller noted that over time the bridge fund should experience less demand because the materials being used in replacing bridges and culverts has life-spans of a hundred years rather than just 20-30 years.