Gallatin County Courthouse File

The Gallatin County Courthouse on Main Street in downtown Bozeman on June 25, 2020.

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The Gallatin County Commission unanimously approved its annual budget on Tuesday with a projected tax increase of $3.8 million.

The county portion of homeowners’ taxes will increase by $43.89 for a property with a market value of $300,000.

The county budget totals $181 million, an increase of $11.2 million from last year.

The budget increase is larger than the tax hike because taxes aren’t the county’s only source of revenue. The county also receives funding from grants and from fees it charges for services such as dumping at the landfill.

Most of the projected rise in taxes comes from tax increases voters approved in June for public safety.

Voters allowed commissioners to levy a maximum of about $733,000 in new taxes for the search and rescue department. The commissioners decided to levy the full amount, bringing the department’s budget to $1.48 million.

The new funds will be used to hire three new staff members and replace old equipment. Some money will also be set aside for future needs, including the expansion of the search and rescue headquarters in Bozeman, Big Sky and West Yellowstone.

Search and rescue officials have said the budget increase was necessary because the number and complexity of emergencies the department responds to have increased as the county has grown over the last few decades.

In June, voters also gave the commissioners the ability to levy up to $2.2 million for upgrades to the county’s 911 communications system and to hire staff for the 911 dispatch center. The commissioners chose to levy about $1.62 million.

The dispatch center won’t see a budget increase of $1.62 million. Instead, the new tax dollars will replace general fund money the commissioners have used for the center in previous years.

About $437,000 of the newly available general fund dollars will go to the Gallatin Rest Home, bringing its budget to $7.45 million. The rest home has struggled financially in recent years due, in part, to the rising cost of health care. In response, the commissioners have increased the long-term care facility’s budget every year for the last several years.

The commissioners previously considered asking voters to increase taxes to support the rest home but have decided, for now, that they can fund the facility within their existing budget.

In response to the coronavirus pandemic, the commissioners provided an additional $133,000 to the Gallatin City-County Health Department, which will be used in combination with grants.

The new funding will enable the department to train a medical reserve corps that could help the county respond to a spike in COVID-19 cases, retain a long-term care coordinator who has been working with senior living facilities to prevent a COVID-19 outbreak, hire a public health emergency coordinator and make a temporary nurse who was hired during the pandemic a permanent employee.

A handful of other departments’ needs also contributed to this year’s budget increase.

The commissioners approved new requests totaling about $622,000 for the innovation and technology services department for software, security, phones and other equipment.

The sheriff’s office received an increase of $386,000, which includes pay raises for deputies, the hiring of additional deputies and the purchase of new equipment.

For the November election, the commissioners set aside an additional $141,000 for the elections department.

Due to the economic downturn, the commissioners worked to minimize tax increases by rejecting raises for most county employees. They also didn’t approve as many new positions as they typically do.

The commissioners have said they aren’t worried about the effects of the economic downturn on the county’s budget. The county continues to grow, creating a broader tax base and making the existing property more valuable. The county also is seeing high levels of fee collection from services such as permitting sewer systems and new buildings.

The county has some concerns that more businesses and residents won’t be able to pay the taxes they owe, so they will keep track of property tax collections and respond as necessary.

The commissioners held meetings in June with other elected officials and with county department heads to develop the budget. They then held several public hearings on the budget before the final adoption on Tuesday.

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Perrin Stein can be reached at pstein@dailychronicle.com or at 582-2648.

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