Ravalli County treasurer months behind in payments to local governments

2014-01-08T12:41:00Z 2014-06-17T13:19:08Z Ravalli County treasurer months behind in payments to local governmentsBy PERRY BACKUS Ravalli Republic The Billings Gazette
January 08, 2014 12:41 pm  • 

HAMILTON — Ravalli County is running on reserves.

After the county treasurer’s office failed to distribute tax receipts collected for the first half the year, a number of county entities are resorting to dipping into reserves to keep their doors open.

The city of Hamilton is waiting on more than $1 million in tax revenues it expected in December. City officials say they may have to wait to start some projects until the funding issue is resolved.

In Stevensville, the town council will meet this week to decide its next course of action after it failed to receive over $120,000 in expected tax receipts in December.

The Darby Community Library isn’t buying books and its director said it won’t be able to operate much longer if the situation doesn’t rectify itself soon.

County treasurer Valerie Stamey isn’t talking with the newspaper or anyone else about the issue. She did not return a phone call Tuesday afternoon.

“We sent an email to the county commission and the treasurer several weeks ago and we’ve received no response whatsoever,” said Stevensville Mayor Gene Mim Mack. “It doesn’t seem responsible to not respond at all to what we feel are very genuine concerns.”

“When you hear nothing, you tend to draw your own conclusions,” he said. “Since we’ve heard nothing, we assume the worst.”

Mim Mack said he would like to see the commission take a more assertive line in addressing the issue.

Stamey was appointed in September by the Ravalli County Commission to replace Marie Keeton, who resigned the post due to personal reasons.

Since then, three of the most experienced employees in the office have quit. The former chief deputy treasurer told the Ravalli Republic in November that everyone in the office was demoralized just before she left.

The last time the county received a balance statement was September.

That was the same month the city of Hamilton received its last disbursement of tax revenues, said the city’s financial administrator, Craig Shepherd.

September’s receipts arrived in November. The city is still waiting for payments for October, November and December.

Shepherd said the city of Hamilton is owed over $1 million in tax revenues. Without that funding, the city may be forced to consider pushing back projects it has planned.

“We have no way of knowing how soon we might receive those funds,” he said. “There has been simply no contact with the treasurer’s office or the commission.”

Hamilton Mayor Jerry Steele said school districts, incorporated towns, libraries, fire districts and others are all being impacted.

“We are all dependent on county tax drops,” he said. “It’s a nightmare. It just goes to show you why you don’t want to elect a treasurer. You want someone who understands governmental accounting.”

“You better know what you’re doing when you take that job or you’re going to have a real mess,” Steele said. “That’s what the county has right now. Unfortunately, it’s come to a head and they need to deal with it.”

Newly elected commission chair Greg Chilcott said that a new person has been hired to help in treasurer’s office and the commission plans to continue offering what support it can.

“We’re concerned our partner districts are not getting their revenues in a timely manner,” Chilcott said. “We’re pretty confident that we’re pretty close to being caught up.”

That would be good news to Bitterroot Public Library Director Trista Smith.

The Hamilton library is almost $190,000 behind in county tax funding.

About 85 percent of the library’s operating revenues come from county tax receipts. Right now, the library’s doors are open thanks to reserves, grants and donations.

“We do have a cushion to carry us through for a while,” Smith said. “But if this goes on for a long time, I’m not sure how we would keep our doors open.”

The North Valley Public Library’s acting director, Renee McGrath, is facing the same quandary.

The Stevensville library received a check for $4,194 in October for its August tax payments. In November, the county treasurer’s office sent a check for $52 for taxes collected in September.

The September tax payment last year was $1,293.

The library still hasn’t received its December payment, which last year amounted to $125,752. That payment typically accounts for about half the library’s annual operating budget.

“It’s a disaster,” McGrath said. “I’ve called the treasurer’s office several times and never received a return call. I read in the paper where the treasurer said she was spending her evenings calling taxpayers. She certainly isn’t responding to me.”

McGrath said the library has some reserves it can use to continue operations for a time.

“If we were operating paycheck to paycheck, we would be in trouble,” she said. “This is an urgent situation. I hope the commission realizes that.”

Smith said she’s hopeful that issue will be resolved soon, but there may be a lesson to be learned.

“It is not a small thing,” Smith said. “When the county treasurer’s office has a hiccup, it affects almost every service in the valley. People don’t see the real implication behind it until those services don’t get the money they need to operate.”

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