Great Falls tax levy approved, commissioners direct staff to move forward with sending park district to May ballot

Updated at 9 a.m. Aug. 16

City Commissioners voted Tuesday to approve this year’s tax levy, which amounts to a net $1.09 annually for a property valued at $100,000.

Commission approves budget, intent to raise taxes

The city recently received its taxable valuation from the Montana Department of Revenue and the revised figure was $437,295, which was significantly down from the projected $2 million based on estimates from MTDOR. Even with the $840,000 worth of additional tax revenue that was received in the last fiscal year, the anticipated revenues are about $700,000 short.

Newly taxable property is property that was built, improved, expanded in the last tax year creating more tax revenue. In the simplest terms, it’s an indicator of an expanding tax base. The spike in projected revenue this year was largely due to the Calumet expansion.

Newly taxable property significantly lower than projected; city able to cover shortfall without cutting services

But the city will be able to cover the shortfall with the fund balance in the general fund and as companies like Calumet protest their latest tax valuations, the city will make budget adjustments as necessary. MTDOR is scheduled to meet with Calumet on their taxable value on Wednesday, according to a MTDOR letter to the city.

The proposed lease agreement with the airport regarding the current 911 dispatch center was pulled from Tuesday’s agenda and a new date has not been selected for when that issue will formally go before the commission.

Commission to consider lease with GF airport to maintain 911 center operations

The park district was also on Tuesday’s agenda. Since the opposition amounted to 21.6 percent of the returned protest forms, commissioners voted Tuesday to reject a resolution to create the proposed district, which is currently proposed as a $2.26 million assessment for the first three years.

The final number of returned protest forms was 5,758 with 21.6 percent opposed. The bulk of the opposition in the weighted system came from a single company in Great Falls, according to city staff.

Since the opposition fell between 10 and 50 percent, according to state law, commissioners have the option to send the matter to the May ballot or do nothing.

Park district protest period now closed, Great Falls commission to discuss on Tuesday

Commissioners directed staff Tuesday evening to move forward with placing the park district on the ballot but to come back during a work session to further discuss.

Commissioner Fred Burow said there are a lot of misconceptions going around but that he wanted to see it on a public ballot.

“We need to have the conversation about our parks,” he said Tuesday.

Alluding to complaints that property owners had thrown away their protest forms, Burow said the city was following state law and “I can only mail ’em to ’em but I can’t make ’em read.”

If the district is approved by public vote, then “we know the community wants to spend the money to fix out parks,” Burow said.

But if it fails, the community will have to have a discussion about what to pull back on.

“Maybe we’re offering too much,” Burow said.

Commissioner Bill Bronson said citizens who participated in the lengthy park and recreation master plan process indicated they were willing to pay more for park improvements. The park district was recommended in that master plan and Bronson said this was staff following through on the master plan.

Bronson said he wanted staff to also look at alternatives to the park district assessment and to address suggestions from the community, such as selling parks to make up funds for the department.

“We all know that process would not work,” he said. “That’s not a solution to the problem.”

Commissioners voted 3-0 to approved the labor agreement with Great Falls firefighters. Commissioner Bob Jones abstained since his son is a firefighter. He said he abstained to remove any perception or question of conflicts of interest, as has been an issue for some commissioners this year in particular.

Firefighter labor agreement up for commission vote

The agreement will create a new lieutenant rank at Great Falls Fire Rescue and includes wage increases for firefighters.

During the commissioner initiatives portion of the meeting, Bronson said he thought the commission should send a letter to the commission in Charlottesville, Va. expressing their support, sympathy and solidarity after protests turned violent over the weekend leaving three people dead.

Commissioners agreed and Bronson is writing a draft for commissioners to sign.

Burow said he wanted staff to look into changing a city ordinance that prohibits weapons in city parks and trails. Other commissioners indicated they were fine with staff looking into the matter, but didn’t commit to supporting the change.