Bullock Outlines Options for Funding Hospital Districts
HELENA – In a formal opinion issued Thursday, Attorney General Steve Bullock ruled that county commissioners may levy mills to support a new county hospital district, even if no mills had previously been levied for that purpose. The opinion also concluded that county commissioners are not obligated to fund a new hospital at the exact budget level proposed by hospital district trustees.
Bullock issued the opinion is response to questions raised by Granite County Commissioners about a new county-wide hospital district created in 2008.
Bullock’s opinion was based on several sweeping changes made by the 2001 Legislature in the funding of local government services. In that year, amendments to Section 15-10-420 of the Montana Code Annotated replaced the 1996 funding cap with a mill levy cap that “encompasses almost all local government mill levies, including special levies, and limits the local government’s mill levies for almost all purposes to the number of mills needed to provide the same revenue as was raised in the prior year, indexed for inflation.”
Since the 2001 amendments were intended to give local governments “sufficient flexibility to provide necessary services within a balanced budget,” the opinion concludes that — rather than having to simply rubber-stamp a proposed hospital district budget — “the Commissioners have the authority to review and adjust the budgets proposed by hospital district trustees.”
The opinion also outlined the options county commissioners have to fund an existing or new hospital district. Commissioners may provide funding:
- from the general mill levy,
- by levying mills under § 7-34-2133 MCA, provided the total number of mills levied by the County for the hospital and for all other purposes covered by § 15-10-420 MCA stays within the cap provided by § 420,
- from an additional mill levy amount approved by the voters under § 15-10-425 MCA, and
- by issuing bonds to defray the cost of “acquisition, furnishing, equipment, improvement, extension, and betterment of hospital facilities and to provide an adequate working capital for a new hospital,” as allowed under § 7-34-2131 MCA.
Opinions of the attorney general carry the weight of law unless a court overturns them or the Legislature modifies the laws involved.