Missoula County commissioners seek public comment on proposed budget

Following their preliminary budget hearing on Aug. 13, the Missoula County commissioners are encouraging members of the public to review and provide feedback on the proposed budget for fiscal year 2021.  

Missoula County’s preliminary budget for FY21 includes $170.2 million in overall revenue, which is based on certified taxable values the Montana Department of Revenue released earlier this month, as well as available cash savings from previous years.    

The budget calls for overall expenditures of $168.6 million, with much of that going toward sustaining current services and operations, which includes increases in operational expenses and negotiated increases in employee wages.   

Missoula County budgets an average of 2.5% to cover wage increases for the county’s 850 employees, about 85% of whom are covered by collective bargaining agreements. The county bargains those agreements in good faith and was able to honor those agreements this year. The county also continues to work toward paying all permanent employees a minimum, livable wage of $15 an hour. Wages for elected officials and contract employees were largely frozen due to current economic uncertainty.  

Approximately $1.1 million in the preliminary budget would fund new requests to enhance services and operations, such as funding new programs and adding new staff, equipment and technology.  

To minimize the impact on taxpayers, departments must fund all one-time requests with cash savings from the prior fiscal year. A dozen new, ongoing requests would require new property tax dollars. 

Read the detailed list of budget requests online or view the slideshow above.

If adopted as-is, the preliminary budget would mean an estimated property tax increase of $17.34 on a $350,000 home, or $1.45 a month.  

“What we choose to fund is a direct reflection of our values,” said commission Chair Josh Slotnick. “We believe this budget responds to the current needs of our county and also makes smart investments in our future. We encourage the public to take the time to review the budget and let us know your thoughts.” 

The county also anticipates approximately $3.4 million in COVID-19-related expenses in FY21. The county expects these expenses, which include operation of the county testing clinic, emergency operations center, non-congregate shelter and call center, to be reimbursable through CARES Act funding.  

Since Missoula County voters approved a 2-cent per gallon gas tax in June, the preliminary budget does not include any property tax increases for the county road fund. The county will be better able to predict revenue from the gas tax after it goes into effect in October.   

The public is encouraged to review budget documents, which are posted online at http://missoula.co/budgets. In addition to commenting during public meetings, residents can comment by leaving the commissioners a voicemail at 406-258-4877, emailing bcc@missoulacounty.us or mailing comments to the Commissioners’ Office, 200 W. Broadway St. Missoula, MT 59802.    

Commissioners will hold a virtual public hearing on the final budget at 2 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 3. They will consider any additional public comment before voting to adopt the final budget at an administrative public meeting later that month.  

Missoula County commissioners to consider placing countywide gas tax on primary ballot

Deschamps Lane
Deschamps Lane west of Missoula. Missoula County commissioners are seeking public comment as they consider adopting a resolution to place a countywide gas tax on the June 2 primary election ballot. Voters would ultimately decide whether to enact the 2 cent per gallon tax, revenue from which would fund road maintenance and improvements.

Missoula County commissioners are seeking public comment as they consider adopting a resolution to place a countywide gas tax on the June 2 primary election ballot. Missoula County voters would ultimately decide whether to enact the 2 cent per gallon tax, revenue from which would fund road maintenance and improvements.

The first public hearing on the issue will be at the commissioners’ public meeting at 2 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 27, in the Sophie Moiese Room at the Missoula County Courthouse. The board will take constituent comments until the public meeting at 2 p.m. Thursday, March 5, when they will vote on whether to adopt the resolution.

In addition to attending the meetings, the public can submit comment by calling 406-258-4877 or emailing bcc@missoulacounty.us.

If adopted, commissioners will sign the resolution at a special administrative public meeting at 3 p.m. Monday, March 9, in Administration Building Room 206 so it can be delivered to the Elections Office by the 5 p.m. filing deadline.

In an effort to pursue revenue sources beyond increasing property taxes, Commissioner Josh Slotnick has worked on this initiative with the City of Missoula and a recently formed local advocacy group over the past several months. Figures estimated by staff indicate a 2-cent per gallon tax would generate an estimated $1.1 million, which would be split equally between Missoula County and the City of Missoula to pay for construction, reconstruction, maintenance and repair of public roads. Estimates show that non-residents visiting the county would generate around $400,000 of the total revenue.

Montana Code Annotated 7-14-301 through 7-14-304 gives county commissioners authority to adopt a resolution placing a local option fuel tax on the ballot. If approved by voters, the tax must be imposed in increments of 1 cent per gallon and cannot exceed 2 cents per gallon. Revenue derived from the tax must be divided among the county and municipalities in the county according to one of the methods outlined in MCA 7-14-303. Missoula is the only incorporated municipality in Missoula County.

New Missoula County Election Center is now open

Missoula County Election Center
The new Missoula County Election Center is located at 140 N. Russell St. in Missoula.

Need to register to vote in Missoula County? Update your address? Sign up for an absentee ballot?

If you’ve needed any of these services over the past 10 years, it’s possible you showed up at the county courthouse on Broadway, only to find that you actually needed to head to the Election Office’s temporary location at the Missoula County Fairgrounds. That’s because a few months before each election, Elections Office staff routinely moved from their permanent location at the courthouse and set up shop at the more spacious fairgrounds so they could accommodate increased demand for voter services.

Hopefully, most people were still able to trek across town and take care of their registration. But what might be a minor inconvenience for some may be a major setback for others, especially those running on tight schedules or who rely on public transportation to get where they need to go.

And while the fairgrounds provided more space and parking, operations still had to be spread over multiple buildings. And with renovations slated to continue at the fairgrounds for several more years, this solution was becoming increasingly unsustainable. (Not to mention the thousands of dollars it cost each time to move).

Fortunately, Missoula County voters now have a year-round, one-stop shop for all their voting needs: the county’s new Election Center, located at 140 N. Russell St.

Elections staff have moved into the facility and are providing voter and election services from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. The centrally located facility will eventually provide about 200 parking spaces, and it’s accessible via Mountain Line’s Route 2 BOLT bus, which offers service every 15 minutes, and from the Milwaukee Trail, located a block south.

“We’re excited about this new, permanent location that will allow us to better serve voters,” says Dayna Causby, the county’s elections administrator. “We’re looking forward to working out of the new facility and providing the customer support that ensures everyone who’s eligible to vote can cast their ballot.”

Election services
An election staff member helps a voter at the new Election Center.

The 14,500-square-foot center, which includes the main office space and a warehouse, will also host trainings for emergency management, law enforcement and other county staff. The county will remodel the buildings to best accommodate the various uses. Renovations are projected to cost around $500,000 and slated to be complete ahead of the June 2020 primary election.

The county acquired the property from the Western Montana Mental Health Center in October for $2.78 million. In addition to renovation costs, the financing package includes the purchase of about $255,000 in elections equipment, including an additional ballot processing machine and updated elections software, bringing the total to $3.5 million.

So next time you need an election-related service, be sure to visit the friendly staff at the new Russell Street location. If you’re driving, it’s best to enter the parking lot via the entrance on Wyoming Street, just west of Prince Street.

You can contact the Elections Office by phone at 406-258-4751 or email at electioninfo@missoulacounty.us. You can also check your ward, registration status and polling place location at www.missoulavotes.com.

Drop your ballot off, get an ‘I Voted’ sticker without leaving your car

Drive-thru ballot drop-off

Want to cast your ballot without even leaving your car? Starting tomorrow, you can!

Absentee voters in Missoula County can take advantage of the drive-thru ballot drop-off at the Missoula County Fairgrounds, which opens Thursday, Nov. 1.

Hours for the drop-off are:

  • Thursday and Friday, Nov. 1-2: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
  • Saturday, Nov. 3: 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
  • Monday, Nov. 5: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
  • Tuesday, Nov. 6 (Election Day): 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.

To access the drop-off, use the west entrance on South Avenue, near the intersection with Oxford Street. (The east South Avenue entrance, which was used in previous years, is closed due to construction.) An additional drive-thru, which will be accessible through the entrance on Russell Street near the intersection with Fairview Avenue, will be open on Election Day only. Check out the map above detailing the routes.

In addition to convenience, voters who use the drive-thru ballot drop-off will receive a coveted “I Voted” sticker that many absentee voters often go without. I voted

To better serve Missoula County voters, the Elections Center also will offer extended and weekend hours through Election Day. The office is now open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekdays and from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. this Saturday, Nov. 3.

Do you still need to register to vote? Change your address? Request an absentee ballot? Don’t wait until Election Day — please let us help you with your election-related needs as soon as possible! Voters who wait until Election Day will likely experience long wait times. We know many people can’t make it to the center before Nov. 6 due to work and other obligations, so if you can, make it a priority!

In addition to voter registration, Elections Center staff can help with all voter services, including signing up for an absentee ballot, address changes, retrieving undeliverable ballots and issuing replacement ballots.

Voters can check their registration status and polling place location at www.MyVoterPageMT.com.

Need more information? Feel free to call the Elections Center at 406-258-4751, email electioninfo@missoulacounty.us or visit www.missoulavotes.com.

Missoula County Elections FAQ

Vote

With Election Day one week from now, the Elections Center and other Missoula County staff are getting lots of questions from voters. Though some answers may depend on a voter’s particular circumstances, here are responses to a few commonly asked questions. 

What should I do with my absentee ballot application? Can I drop it off at the courthouse still?

At this point, voters should bring their absentee ballot application to the Elections Center at the Fairgrounds to ensure they get their ballot. The Elections Center is located in Building 15, and drivers should enter through the Russell Street entrance or the west entrance on South Avenue (the east entrance on South is closed due to construction).

How frequently are you mailing out ballots for those with new absentee requests?

The Elections Center mails out absentee ballots every day. However, starting Wednesday, Oct. 31, they are strongly encouraging voters to come to the Fairgrounds to pick up their ballots.

What is the last day for voters to get their ballots in the mail to ensure they’re counted on Election Day?

The Secretary of State’s office recommends allowing a week for mailing to the Elections Office. The Missoula County Elections Center recommends that voters sending in their ballots from Missoula put them in the mail, with sufficient postage (two Forever stamps) by Thursday, Nov. 1. Absentee ballots must be RECEIVED at the Elections Center by 8 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 6. If your ballot is merely postmarked by then, it won’t be counted!

You can also drop off your ballot at the Elections Center, at the Courthouse and at the drive-thru ballot drop-off at the Fairgrounds. Hours for the drive-thru are:

  • 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday and Friday, Nov. 1 and 2, and Monday, Nov. 5
  • 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 3.
  • 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 6, Election Day

I see the Elections Center is now open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. until Friday and open Saturday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Is the late registration cutoff still noon on Monday? What, if any, services do you offer after noon on Nov. 5?

The cutoff for late registration on Monday, Nov. 5, is noon, but same-day voter registration will be available from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 6. After noon on Nov. 5, the Elections Center will offer ballot drive-thru drop-off and will also help people find their polling place.

I’ve signed my spouse’s envelope. Can I cross out the incorrect signature and sign the correct ballot?

Yes. The ballot will be processed with the corrected signature.

The outer envelope is ripped and/or reopened. If the bar code and ballot number are still legible, can the Elections Center process it?

Yes, just use tape to “reseal” the envelope.

Will there be an Elections Office presence at the Courthouse on Election Day?

No, all services will be at the Election Center at the Fairgrounds. The Elections Center will have runners come by at 8 p.m. to pick up ballots from the courthouse.

Don’t see an answer to your question? Post it in the comments and we’ll get you an answer as soon as possible!

Missoula Votes Clear Background

With third parties bombarding voters’ mailboxes with conflicting information this election cycle, here are a few other things to keep in mind:

  • The only source for accurate information regarding the status of a voter’s absentee ballot is www.myvoterpagemt.com.

 

  • The following polling places have been relocated for this election:Hellgate Elementary School: Voters report to Montana Technology & Development Center, 5785 W. Broadway

    Cold Springs Elementary School: Voters report to Chief Charlo Elementary School, 5600 Longview Drive

    Meadow Hill Middle School: Voters report to Chief Charlo Elementary School, 5600 Longview Drive

    Hawthorne Elementary School: Voters report to Orchard Homes Country Life Club, 2537 S. Third St. W.

 

  • Your best source for up-to-date information will always be the Missoula County Elections Office. You can follow them on Facebook @MissoulaCountyElections, visit their website at www.missoulavotes.com or call them at 406-258-4751.