City to consider budget, tax increases

City Commissioners are expected to vote Tuesday on the budget for the upcoming fiscal year, as well as their intent to raise property taxes.

City staff are proposing that commissioners take the full allowable inflationary factor to raise property taxes by 0.59 percent. That equates to an estimated $88,793 of additional revenue for the city’s general fund.

City budget proposal impacted by legislative actions, cuts

State law caps property tax increases and the city is only able to raise property taxes by one-half of the average rate of inflation for the prior three years. This year, that is 0.59 percent for the city.

State law also allows a property tax increase for premium contributions for group benefits and the city is proposing a 1.66 percent increase to cover employee health insurance premiums.

That increase would provide about $250,000 toward employee health insurance, though premiums increased 7.2 percent for the upcoming fiscal year, according to city data.

The total proposed tax increase is 2.25 percent or a projected $5.06 annually for a property with a $100,000 taxable value.

That increase is offset by the swimming pool bond being paid off at the end of June. That knocks off $3.97 annually for a property with a $100,000 taxable value.

That makes a net increase of $1.09 for the next year, or about 9 cents per month, for a property with a $100,000 taxable value.

Commissioners are also set to vote on the budget, which was first presented to the commission on June 28 and again on July 5.

The $116 million budget is down roughly $10 million from last year’s budget, in part due to last year’s $28.6 million price tag for improvements at the water treatment plant.

Legislative actions affecting Great Falls budget

The commission set budget priorities during a public January work session and those were used by staff to develop their budget requests through the spring.

The city will set the mill levy after the Montana Department of Revenue has certified taxable values for the city. That is currently scheduled for the Aug. 15 commission meeting.

The proposed budget does not include new police or fire positions. Both the Great Falls Police Department and Great Falls Fire Rescue requested six new positions each.

GFFR had requested an additional fire inspector position, which City Manager Greg Doyon initially did not recommend funding for, but Commissioner Bob Jones requested that the position be funded.

At an estimated $52,000 for the position, the change won’t affect the bottom line of the budget, according to Doyon. That fire inspector position will be discussed during the July 18 commission meeting for commissioners to determine whether to include it in the budget.

City staff reviewed the fire inspection fees to see if there was a way to make up funding for the position that way, but found that with a 16 percent increase, only $21,000 would be generated.

City planning and GFFR currently share the workload for safety inspections, with planning generally handling the administrative side and GFFR doing the inspection.

Assistant Fire Chief Ron Scott said “it needs to happen,” of adding the new inspector position, who would be full-time and report to the current fire inspector.

GFFR Chief Steve Hester said that right now, engine crews from the city’s other three districts have been helping conduct safety inspections in the downtown district, since that’s where many are concentrated and a majority of emergency calls happen in the downtown district.

The current fire inspector spends time looking for new businesses that pop up, informing them of the safety inspection process and ensuring those properties get inspected, according to GFFR officials.

The new inspector would help take the inspection load off engine crews who generally do inspections between calls. The new position would also beef up the department’s fire prevention efforts, which is beneficial to the city as a whole, fire officials have said.

Hester said GFFR is working with city planning to take over the entire program, including the administrative duties.

Commissioner Bob Jones said during the July 5 work session that part of their reasoning in rejecting Calumet’s tax abatement request was due to public safety needs. He said this position should be funded  to reflect that.

Commissioner Fred Burow said “maybe it’s time to rethink how many of these calls we should be going on. Maybe we’re overloaded with things we shouldn’t be doing.”

Burow was referring to the high volume of medical calls that GFFR handles in the city.