McGrath: Library Boards’ Budget Authority Unchanged
HELENA – In an opinion released Friday, Montana Attorney General Mike McGrath held that county commissions must fund library budgets as submitted by library boards as long as those budgets meet statutory limits.
Broadwater County Attorney John Flynn requested the opinion, specifically asking if the library board could require the county commission to levy five mills. The questions arose in light of changes the 2001 Montana Legislature made to state tax laws. Generally, those changes eliminated specific numeric limitations to mill levies for specific government purposes, including library operations. Instead, counties could levy enough mills to match the revenue raised by the previous year’s property tax levies.
McGrath’s opinion noted that the removal of the five-mill limit “does not alter the library board’s budget authority.” The library board still has the authority to set the library budget and commissioners are still obligated to fund it, up to the amount of money raised by property taxes to support the library in the prior year, adjusted for inflation.
The opinion also addressed the “interlocal” agreement between Broadwater County and the Townsend School District. Under that agreement, the school district houses the library and provides funds for the “general operation of the library.” In turn, the County provides the approved level of funding for the general operation of the library and for materials to meet the “non-school” needs of the county population.
McGrath held that nothing in the 2001 tax changes prevents the County from entering into the interlocal agreement, as long as it accepts the library board’s budget proposal and levies the mills necessary to fund it.
The opinion marks the third one McGrath has issued in relation to the so-called “Big Bill” and its effects on local government financing. In July of last year, McGrath issued an opinion allowing local governments to increase levies in order to make up for money lost in the switch to a “flat fee” system. In August 2001, the attorney general clarified questions related to levying mills for airport purposes.
An attorney general’s opinion carries the weight of law unless the Supreme Court overturns it or the Legislature modifies the laws involved.