The Jefferson County budget for Fiscal Year 2020 reflects the Commission’s desire to continue to progress while keeping taxpayers in mind. For the past couple years, we have been able to reduce the mill levies at the county level, and this year we reduced them by four mills. We are not sure if we can continue that trend next year, since our gross proceeds will be pretty minimal, but we are committed to trying.

A recap of budget-related items follow:

  • Jefferson County’s taxable value increased this year to $31,841,547 from $30,601,304 last year. However, anticipated proceeds are down as a reflection of the pending shutdown of the Golden Sunlight Mine. We have known for some time that at some point the mine would close. Apparently that time has come, for the mine will lay off most of its remaining workers at the end of September, at which time mine manager Dan Banghart will leave and Whitehall native Chuck Buess will take over on Oct. 1. Golden Sunlight’s owner, Barrick Gold, is exploring an opportunity to retrofit the mill to reprocess tailings. That would allow sulphites to be removed and then shipped to Barrick Gold’s mines in Nevada to be used as a fuel. That would add several jobs back at the mine and extend the mine’s life several more years.
  • Over the past several years, we have used millings taken from I-15 to surface most County roads in Elk Park and in the Boulder area. We don’t now know when the state may start milling again. We have committed to upgrade some of the roads in the Piedmont area south of Whitehall, many of which become almost impassable in the spring, particularly following a very cold winter. We are not sure how much we can do each year, because it is expensive to dig the roads down and haul in rocks and place filter cloth. Some places we can install French drains to help.
  • We approved a new position of investigator, which will be split between the Sheriff’s Office and the Office of the County Attorney.
  • Following the health-related resignation of Justice of the Peace Dean Hildebrand, we interviewed four candidates to replace him and selected Steve Andersen. He will serve until the November 2020 general election.
  • We budgeted for the position of forester, but haven’t decided whether to fill that position or not. It could be funded with our Title III money, for which we have limited uses. Because the U.S. Congress approved county commissioners’ participating in the Good Neighbor Authority, a forester would let us find and promote new projects and provide expertise for better participating with the state and the U.S. Forest Service to see projects through to completion.
  • Event coordinator Bruce Binkowski’s role now includes managing Jefferson County Recreation Park to allow the Fair Board to focus more on the fair and less time on facilities.
  • Binkowski launched discoverjeffersonmt.org, a website that covers recreation in the county.
  • We committed spending up to $50,000 for a Preliminary Architectural and Engineering Report to determine if building a Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame and Western Museum is feasible in Boulder and, if so, where.
  • We have been discussing with the state for several months about Jefferson County possibly acquiring the former Montana Developmental Center campus so we can develop it. We’ve been considering some type of veterans facility, but also have been approached with different ideas for use of part or all of the campus. The state has been doing surveys to determine individual parcels and whether they are State Trust Property, for which the state would need to be compensated for, or regular state property that could be gifted to the county.
  • Several months ago we were approached by someone who wanted to build a dog food factory in Jefferson County. Because we are aware of many agricultural producers here that raise several types of specialty meats, we came up with an idea to tie a meat-processing plant into the brand name for the Cowboy Hall of Fame and tie that into the dog food plant as well. We are exploring how such a facility might be financed.

All in all, despite the closure of the Montana Developmental Center in Boulder and the pending closure of the Golden Sunlight Mine, Jefferson County’s future looks bright. It is important that we look at adversity as an opportunity to move in new and exciting directions. Now is the time to keep moving forward.

Jefferson County’s commissioners are Leonard Wortman, Cory Kirsch and Bob Mullen.

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