Proposed city budget would close Natatorium, potentially a golf course
The Natatorium will close by the end of the year unless the City Commission make major changes to the budget presented by city staff Wednesday morning.
The $117.9 million budget also eliminates the emergency manager position within Great Falls Fire Rescue and does not fund the six new police officers, including an additional school resources officer that were requested by Great Falls Police Department, or the two additional firefighters requested by GFFR.
Greg Doyon, city manager, presented his budget to commissioners during a 3-hour special meeting on Wednesday and now commissioners will have discussion before the vote, which is scheduled for July 17.
The budget includes a recommended annual property tax increase of $6.14 on a property with a $100,000 market value. Of that proposed increase, 0.82 percent is for the inflationary factor and 1.93 for the permissive medical levy.
The city is also issuing a request for proposals this summer for the management of the two municipal golf courses. Depending on the responses, one of the golf courses might close. Doyon told commissioners that if no responses come in or a response indicates that the city can’t support two courses, he will recommend closure of one course.
Commissioners didn’t offer any opinions about the proposed Natatorium or golf course closures during Wednesday’s meeting. Another budget work session is scheduled for July 3.
The Natatorium is at the end of its useful life, according to city officials.
“We have to come to grips with that,” Doyon said.
The Park and Recreation department has been working with CTA Architects Engineers for an assessment of the Natatorium. In January, part of the brick facade fell off the building. Other sections of brick are loose and there are a number of other structural issues at the facility.
According to the CTA assessment, the repairs would cost an estimated $500,000 on the low end, Doyon told commissioners.
“The exterior of the Nat is just half of it,” Doyon said.
A 2011 assessment had identified a number of items for repair at the Nat, many of which haven’t yet been funded.
“This building has had a long and good useful life,” Doyon said. “It’s time to be real. The reality is we need to close it.”
The golf fund currently owes the general fund about $1 million, causing some financial strain for the city.
“We need to resolve the debt,” Doyon said.
Some construction work at two of the city’s four fire stations revealed that the sewer line had collapsed under each station, leaving a void under the concrete slab.
That’s a major repair and “it’s not going to be cheap,” Doyon said.
It might be time to build a new station, versus repairing the sewer lines, city officials said, but those cost estimates and plans are still being considered.
Again this year, GFPD requested six new police officers, which is an estimated $81,264 each or $487,584 for all six. The two new firefighter positions requested by GFFR would cost an estimated $154,000.
Doyon said the city has made significant investments in public safety in recent years, including new fire engines, a fire inspector, facility and equipment upgrades.
Doyon told commissioners that to make the kind of staffing investment requested by the police and fire chiefs would likely require a public safety levy.
Great Falls Police Chief Dave Bowen said there might come a time for a levy, “but we’ve watched dollars go down the drain…and watched you folks say this is a priority but no decisions have been made.”
Bowen said he and GFFR Chief Steve Hester are frustrated.
Hester said there has been some discussion about reducing services to deal with limited resources, but that worries him.
“Who do we not serve,” he asked. “We’re going to have to do something. We’re opening ourselves up to more pain and suffering.”
For now, the city is continuing their practice of responding to medical calls. GFFR has been actively recruiting paramedics to be able to offer that level of service and two current firefighters are working through a paramedic program now.
In an effort to recruit and retain paramedics at GFFR, Doyon’s budget funds $20,000 for tuition reimbursement for the paramedic program. GFFR just hired one new paramedic and she’s currently going through the rookie training academy.
For some perspective, the city is projected to generate $19.5 million in taxes this year. The public safety budget in the proposed budget is $22.5 million: $13.5 million for GFPD and $8.9 million for GFFR.
Municipal court staff requested $46,375 for a part-time municipal court judge to help address the high case volume, but Doyon’s budget doesn’t recommend funding for that position.
There have been discussions, particularly in the last year, about how to make more room for municipal court and other city offices. Doyon said he will continue to recommend considering the Children’s Museum as an option.