Gallatin County Courthouse File

The Gallatin County Courthouse is shown in this Aug. 14, 2018, file photo.

In the wake of four members resigning from a citizen advisory committee, Gallatin County is making plans to eliminate the group and bring its work in-house.

Earlier this summer, the chair, vice chair and two other members of the capital improvements program committee stepped down, criticizing what they saw as the county commissioners’ lack of communication and planning for major projects. They said the commissioners weren’t using the group’s expertise to inform decisions on projects such as upgrading buildings and expanding roads.

The advisory group, which included nine local residents and one commissioner, reviewed applications from county departments for major projects and provided guidance on which ones the commissioners should prioritize.

The county will now review applications internally before the commissioners make any decisions.

In planning for major projects, the commissioners will annually review their priorities for the next five years by seeking feedback from department heads, elected officials and the public. They will then outline how much money will go toward the projects for each of the next five years. Although they will set priorities, the order in which projects are completed may change as funding sources fluctuate.

Commissioners also will develop a way to track progress on the projects they approve to ensure they move forward efficiently.

The county hopes having the commissioners review major projects and create a five-year plan will make it easier to develop long-term strategies for capital projects. Through the new process, the county will likely place particular emphasis on its transportation and space needs, which they think would especially benefit from long-term planning.

The new process may provide the commissioners with an opportunity to think differently about how they pay for major capital projects. In general, they now set aside small amounts annually for large projects and pay for them once they have saved enough money. This means taxpayers are investing in projects for years before they benefit from them.

To better meet the county’s needs, commissioners may consider issuing bonds to finance large capital projects and then repaying that debt with future tax revenue. County staff say this would help the county complete work when it’s needed and ensure that taxpayers benefit from the projects as they are paying for them.

State law restricts how much debt counties can issue without voter approval and limits how much debt the county can take on.

Commissioners have issued bonds for a handful of projects that didn’t require voter approval and occasionally seek voter approval to issue bonds for larger projects. They will ask voters in November for permission to issue a $59 million bond for replacing the Law and Justice Center. Commissioners said they want to be cautious about taking on debt as they want to make sure they can fulfill all their financial obligations.

Commissioners have yet to finalize their processes related to planning for major projects and will do so before officially eliminating the capital improvements program committee.

Perrin Stein can be reached at 406-582-2648 or at Follow her on Twitter @PerrinStein.

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