In a formal opinion issued Friday, Attorney General Steve Bullock concluded that local library boards have sole discretion over how unspent funds in a library’s reserve should be spent.
The opinion also found that library boards no longer determine the number of mills that must be levied to support a library. Rather, the opinion concludes that Montana law “clearly provides that the proposed budget and mill levy for each board is subject to approval by the local governing body.”
The opinion was requested by Livingston City Attorney Bruce Becker, who asked a series of questions related to a proposal to reduce the number of mills levied by both the City of Livingston and Park County, and to use the library’s existing reserve to meet its budget needs.
The Library Board objected to this proposal because it would cut the library’s future annual funding by $50,000, or 12.5 percent, and would eliminate funding to cover the costs of inflation.
Local government budget authority was significantly changed by the Local Government Budget Act, as well as other statutory provisions enacted by the 2001 Legislature.
“Thus, the 2001 legislature in effect upended the funding of public libraries,” the opinion states. “It went from a scheme in which library boards had complete control over the library budget, but the budget could not exceed the mill limits provided in Mont. Code Ann. 22-1-304, to a scheme in which there were no mill limits (in that section of the law), but the library board’s proposed budget was subject to approval by the local governing body.”
Opinions of the attorney general carry the weight of law unless a court overturns them or the legislature modifies the laws involved.