HAMILTON, Mont. - Ravalli County commissioners held a meeting Thursday to put an ordinance on the November ballot, asking voters to reduce board numbers from 5 to 3.
Commissioners tell us approval would have meant a savings of $300,000 over two years. But it became a moot effort, when at the end of the hearing, the board found it didn't have enough time to get it on the ballot.
It frustrated some people around town, who said the hearing turned out to be a futile effort and a waste of time. They said the commission should have known beforehand that time had run out.
There remain questions about how to plan for a projected $1 million budget shortfall.
The ordinance would have asked voters if they wanted to bring back a three-member staff serving 6-year terms. After lengthy testimony, the commissioners' attorney said legal requirements to insure public input on the reduced staff couldn't be met.
"Our time frame to get it on the ballot by the 21st of this month," said Commission Chair Greg Chilcott, "could not meet with the statutory requirements."
Chilcott said he's disappointed, and said he should have researched the time requirements more thoroughly.
Reducing the commission, he said, would contribute almost 15 percent in reducing a projected property tax shortfall in 2016.
The board has requested all county departments decrease day-to-day operations by 3 to 5 percent for fiscal year 2015.
"I think for us to look at all our other departments and not look at a way internally as a way to save money," said Commissioner Jeff Burrows, "is not responsible."
It's likely a voter-approved government study commission will review whether to reduce the board anyway.
"I would encourage you to just let the study commission do it," said Democratic Commission Candidate Clint Burson. "It's going to be a bipartisan commission, and it allows for greater input."
In November, voters will decide who will serve on that commission.
Government review study commission candidate Lee Tickell told commissioners there is another option.
"If you are really serious about wanting to cut costs," said Tickell, "you can decide to go half-time or part-time."
The study commission will take about a year and a half or two years to review local government. The commission could study many aspects of government, including reducing the commission.
Chilcottt said if the now dead ordinance proposal would have moved ahead, the savings could have started sooner.
So far, including Lee Tickell, seven people have filed for the five-member county government review study commission. The city of Hamilton passed a study commission also. But so far no candidates have filed.
The deadline is August 21.