Commission approves budget, intent to raise taxes
City Commissioners voted 4-0 Tuesday to approve the Great Falls budget for fiscal year 2018, which began July 1.
No one spoke in favor or opposition of the budget during the public hearing. John Hubbard, who goes by Johnny Angry, spoke in opposition to the tax increase. Brad Livingston, former president of the Chamber of Commerce, spoke in support of the increases in the sense that they’re needed to maintain a high level of service.
The budget won’t be finalized until August when the city gets its tax certifications from the Montana Department of Revenue and sets the mill levy. That is tentatively set for Aug. 15.
City Manager Greg Doyon said the goal in recent years was to focus on public safety and that a dent has been made in their facilities and equipment needs. The city funded the purchase of several new frontline engines, a new ambulance and brush truck in the last year for Great Falls Fire Rescue. This year’s budget doesn’t include new police officers or firefighters.
GFFR had requested a new fire inspector position that Doyon initially didn’t recommend funding, but at the request of Commissioner Bob Jones, the position was added into the budget that was approved at $52,000. Doyon said there’s enough in reserve and contingency funds to fund the position, but will monitor GFFR expenditures throughout the year to make adjustments if necessary.
The requested six firefighter positions total $408,000 or $68,00 each. The amount of revenue generated from the property tax increase is $88,793. The requested six police positions is $464,142, or $73,000 each.
Later in the meeting, as commissioners considered development proposals and annexing property into the city. Doyon and Jones both pointed out that even small, incremental development puts additional pressure on public safety. Doyon told commissioners that development fees might not be sufficient to cover public safety costs in the future and commissioners might need to consider revising the fee structure or implement impact fees.
The commission also approved their intent to raise taxes, but that won’t be finalized until August, when tax certifications come from the Montana DoR. The estimated property tax increase is $5.06 for a property with a taxable value of $100,000. That includes both the inflationary factor and the permissive medical levy. But since bond for neighborhood pools was paid off in June, the net increase on a $100,000 property is $1.09, according to the city’s fiscal services director.
We’ll continue to break down the budget this week.