Missoula County amends budget to reflect $380K payment from federal omnibus bill

Missoula County commissioners on Wednesday amended their 2018 budget to reflect an unexpected boost in revenue resulting from funding included in the federal omnibus bill passed by Congress last month.

The bill included a two-year reauthorization of federal programs intended to reimburse forested counties for lost revenues. Missoula County will receive roughly $380,000 this year through the program, commissioners said.

“The way the funding works is that the payment is made in the following calendar year,” said Greg Robertson, the county’s director of public works. “For 2017, we receive a payment in 2018. The law just deals with 2018 and 2019, so this is a retroactive payment for 2017.”

Renewal of the Secure Rural Schools Act was included in the $1.3 trillion federal spending bill. It funds SRS nationally at around $465 million over two years and includes $530 million for one year in Payments in Lieu of Taxes, which also benefits most western Montana counties.

When SRS expired in 2015, payments to qualified counties in Montana fell from $18.1 million to about $2.4 million a year. As a result, Missoula County lost around $400,000 in revenue, forcing commissioners to make what they called “significant reductions in personnel and operating costs.”

While SRS was only reauthorized for two years, it will provide more certainty to Montana counties as they plan for essential services, including schools and roads.

“It’s a rare, positive move by the U.S. Congress,” said Commissioner Dave Strohmaier.

Commissioners will consider the funding during the Fiscal Year 2019 budgeting process, as well as funding from the state’s bump in the gas tax.