In a move to save jobs in Anaconda-Deer Lodge County, Chief Executive Bill Everett has made an offer to the state’s Department of Revenue he hopes the agency can’t refuse.
Everett wants to give the department free rent in the courthouse for "the next several years" if it locates its proposed regional hub for state assessors there.
The loss of the rent to the county would be $8,400 annually, he said, but Everett hopes the move would save two assessor jobs.
Due to state budget cuts, the revenue department must shave about 10 percent of its operating budget. This is expected to mean a loss of about 70 jobs statewide. Some of those positions are vacant and will not be filled.
But it will mean layoffs for some revenue department workers.
The department is proposing to Gov. Steve Bullock to lay off staff in assessor offices and to close those county offices. The state has an assessor office in each of Montana’s 56 counties. Butte-Silver Bow County has eight assessors, Gene Walborn, revenue department deputy director, said Wednesday.
Whose jobs will be affected by the cuts has not yet been determined, Walborn said. But the revenue department’s proposed plan is to close many of the county offices and create, instead, regional hubs.
Everett has offered not only to stop charging the state rent to save the two jobs that could be on the chopping block, but also offered Anaconda’s courthouse to become the region’s hub for southwest Montana.
Everett sees the potential loss of the two assessors as a bigger issue for Anaconda than just the loss of income for two Anaconda residents.
“The county’s number one funding source is property tax,” Everett said Wednesday by phone.
Assessors assess the amount of tax homeowner's pay. Everett's concern is that if the county’s assessors aren’t living in the county, they will not be as aware of changes to a homeowner’s property that could raise values. That, in turn, would be a loss of tax revenue for the county.
“Things escape the process (if assessors don’t live in the county); the loss of revenue could be significant,” Everett said.
Walborn agreed, but said the state’s plan to prevent that kind of loss to county revenue is to create mobile offices for each county. That would mean that although there would be regional hubs, one assessor would still be living in the county where he or she assesses property.
“A lot of the work in county offices is dealing with paper; that’s a thing we want to regionalize and turn into an electronic process,” Walborn said.
Walborn said nothing is final until Bullock makes his decision. But Walborn added that it would be more likely that regional hubs will be located in the larger communities in each particular region.
But Everett hopes Anaconda can be that regional hub. He pointed to other recent job losses Anaconda has faced. The Smelter City lost five full-time jobs last month when the state Department of Labor and Industry closed its Job Service office due to a cut in federal funding. In a move to become more efficient, the state closed the Title and Registration Bureau in Deer Lodge last year, relocating it to Helena. Everett said that one-third of those 23 jobs were held by Anaconda residents.
"It's pretty brutal," Everett said.