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Monday, March 19, 2018

County sets price tag for government study

“It’s hard to pick a number not knowing what the cost would be,” Doug Buxbaum, County Commissioner


By Jason Stuart
Ranger-Review Staff Writer

The Dawson County Commissioners have finally settled on language for the ballot question they are mandated to put before voters on establishing a Local Government Study Commission.

At Tuesday’s  meeting, commissioners voted to approve a ballot question asking voters whether or not to establish a study commission consisting of five members and to approve an additional county mill to fund it.

Based on the most recent assessment of county taxable values, a single mill is worth a little over $20,000.

Per the Montana Constitution, the question must be brought before voters every 10 years.

The ballot question will be put to voters in the June 3 primary election. Local governments had until March 10 to pass a resolution to put the question on the ballot.

The Glendive City Council passed the resolution on the city’s study commission ballot question in late January. The city’s ballot question will ask voters whether or not to approve establishing a commission of five members at a cost of $5,000.

But the county commissioners struggled with the wording of the county’s resolution, particularly on the number of members to put on the commission and the question of funding for it.

The question of funding, however, was paramount, and commissioners were still wrestling with how much to fund the study commission with just before their vote.

County Clerk Shirley Kreiman told commissioners that after research, she had determined that the “known costs” to fund the training and travel expenses five study commission members would incur was “approximately $4,000.”

The study commissions work for two years, and commissioners were concerned that would mean more cost, though Kreiman said “most of the cost would be incurred in that first year.”

Commissioner Jim Skillestad said he was wary of following the city’s lead and only putting $5,000 towards the study commission.

“It makes me nervous if we just leave it at that $5,000 if something comes up,” Skillestad said.

Commissioner Doug Buxbaum initially suggested that putting a half of a mill towards the study commission “would be more than sufficient for two years.” However, he also said it was hard to know what the correct funding amount would be.

“It’s hard to pick a number not knowing what the cost would be,” Buxbaum said.

Ultimately, Skillestad made a motion to ask voters to fund the study commission with an additional county mill. Buxbaum seconded the motion and it passed.

By state law, any funds not used by a government study commission after its work is complete revert back to the county or municipality’s general fund.

If voters approve the creation of a study commission in the June primary, then they will elect members of the study commission in the November general election.

Government study commissions can recommend five different proposals to voters after their research into the effectiveness and efficiency of the current forms of government is concluded. 

A study commission’s report to voters can recommend no change to the form of government, or it could propose minor changes to the current form. 

If the current form of government is deemed ineffective or inefficient, a study commission can recommend adopting a new form of government, consolidating the city and county governments or, in a municipality’s case, disincorporation.

Voters would ultimately have to approve any changes proposed by a study commission.

The last time the  question was put to voters, in 2004, Dawson County and Glendive voters rejected establishing a study commission. Richey voters approved the measure.

In that 2004 election, the question of whether to establish the study and whether to fund it was split. The question being split was in response to a 1999 attorney general’s opinion that muddied the water somewhat concerning the funding of study commissions.

In 2007, the Montana Legislature amended the law to clarify that the study commission proposal be put to voters in a single ballot question.


Reach Jason Stuart at rrreporter@rangerreview.com.

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