County unveils interactive budget tool

| June 19, 2020 7:50 AM

A new addition to the Lincoln County website will make it easier for residents to see how the jurisdiction allocates its dollars.

Staff with the county’s finance department unveiled the publicly accessible, online interface for the board of commissioners June 17. Available through the department’s webpage, the program allows users to explore county spending, build reports and compare finances against previous years.

“It gives the public access to look at the budget and see where is the money going,” said Wendy Drake of the county’s finance department.

Built by Montana-based Black Mountain Software, the interface was designed during Darren Coldwell’s tenure as county administrator, Drake said. Eventually, they hope to add a survey where residents can offer suggestions as to where tax dollars ought to be spent, she said.

County commissioners voiced their support for the effort as Drake gave them a quick tour of the software. Upon viewing the initial page, which shows that public safety spending leads the 2020 operating expenditure budget, County Commissioner Mark Peck (D-1) joked that the political climate nationally was perfect for discussing defunding law enforcement.

According to the summary, public safety spending totals more than $4.2 million in the budget. By contrast, the county’s library system accounts for roughly $415,000 and spending on the district court budget amounts to about $325,000.

“It’s pretty hard to claim we’re not being transparent,” Peck said.

County Commissioner Jerry Bennett (D-2) asked finance department staff to work on a way to break out levied funds from grants. That would give residents an opportunity to see how grant dollars get used.

“It’s really helpful,” Bennett said of the program.

Peck said he looked forward to letting residents make suggestions on how tax dollars are allocated. That is the way it should be, he said.

“I like that idea,” Peck said. “That’s [how] I think taxes ought to be. When I pay taxes, I ought to be able to choose where I send the money. … There are some departments in the federal government that would go, ‘Poof.’”

The budget interface can be found at lincolncountymt.us/finance-department via the link labeled “Lincoln County Budget – Public View.”