City Commission sets assessments for streets, boulevard, Portage Meadows, park district

City Commissioners approved several assessments during their Aug. 6 meeting.

One member of the public, John Hubbard, spoke in opposition to all increases. A handful of other members of the public attended, but primarily for other agenda items.

City approves budget, intent to raise property taxes

Commissioners unanimously approved the following assessments, some of which did not increase this year:

Street Maintenance District

The street division maintains about 383 miles of streets and alleys within the
city limits. Maintenance consists of pavement rehabilitation and restoration, street cleaning, snow and ice removal, alley maintenance, and the nuisance weed program.

Traffic operations are also funded through the street division and are responsible for the maintenance of all roadway signs, signals, and pavement markings.

No recommendation for an increased assessment is proposed for this fiscal year. The last street maintenance increase of 10 percent was approved in fiscal year 2016.

The street assessment for an average-sized residential lot will have an estimated assessment factor is $0.014760 per square foot, or $110.70 (7,500 sq. ft. x 0.014760 factor = $110.70). The estimated total assessment for the district is $4,574,139.

The city uses the “assessable area” option under state law to assess its street maintenance and defines that by square footage caps.

Five options for assessments exist:

  • Residential: Square footage caps per parcel of 12,000 square feet for residential property and properties categorized as non-profit/cemetery organizations 501(c)(13) as defined by the Internal Revenue Code.
  • Downtown: defined as being within an area bounded on the north by Third Alley North, on the south by Third Alley South, on the east by Tenth Street and on the west by Park Drive. Any properties located in this area with a designated residential land use code of 111, 112 or 114 shall be excluded from the downtown district and assessed as part of the residential district.
  • Mixed-Use: consists of property equal to or greater than 112,000 square feet but less than 50 percent commercially developed. For the ‘mixed-use’ category, the Planning and Community Development Department annually identifies all property equal to or greater than 112,000 square feet which are 50 percent or less commercially developed. Those properties are assessed 50 percent commercial and 50 percent at capped residential.
  • Commercial: 1 million square foot cap for all other property. The 1 million square foot cap for all other property encourages large green areas on some private properties within the city, according to the finance department.
  • Inter-Local Agreement: An “inter-local contracted maintenance” category designates properties owned by other governments or their agencies adjacent to city streets that are maintained by the other governments or their agencies. This category’s assessment includes a 7.5 percent administrative fee as well as the annual contracted cost of maintenance. The maintenance cost portion is agreed upon by the city and the contracting entity.

Boulevard District

The Park and Recreation Department, Natural Resources – Boulevard Division is
responsible for the care and maintenance of over 15,000 street trees located within the General Boulevard District. Services provided within the District are pruning, removal, planting, and streetscape design.

The proposed increase for the Boulevard District assessment is 5 percent for fiscal year 2020, which began July 1.

The increase is proposed to cover increased costs including fuel, labor and equipment, according to the city staff report.

The last increase for the boulevard district was 3 percent for fiscal year 2019, which ended June 30.

The proposed boulevard district assessment would be $0.011433 per square foot, for a total of $405,892 and will result in an assessment of $85.75 for an average size lot of 7,500 square feet (7,500 sq. ft. x 0.011433 factor = $85.75.) This is a yearly increase of $4.08, or 5 percent, for an average lot size of 7,500 square feet, according to the city finance department.

Great Falls Boulevard District

Portage Meadows

In February 1977, the city created a special improvement maintenance district to maintain the green belt of the Portage Meadows Addition.

The assessment covers the costs for materials, snow removal labor, water, mowing labor, fertilizer costs and labor, aerification labor, and tree pruning, which was part of the original planned unit development.

A 5 percent increase is being proposed for the Portage Meadows district to cover increased costs. The last increase was 7 percent for fiscal year 2019.

The proposed assessment is $0.077518 per square foot, a total of $65,252 and will result in an annual assessment of $348.91 for an average lot of 4,501 square feet (4,501 sq. ft. x 0.077518 factor = $348.91.) This is a yearly increase of $16.61, or 5 percent, for an average size lot of 4,501 square feet, according to the city finance department.

Portage Meadows district

Park Maintenance District

No increase is proposed for the park maintenance district assessment.

The cost of the proposed improvements for the park district is $1.5 million annually for the first three years and the assessment is based on the taxable value of each parcel within the district to make the total of $1.5 million.

The city won’t receive current taxable value information from the Montana
Department of Revenue until sometime in August, so based on last year’s valuations, the
estimated annual assessment for a $100,000 market value property would be $27.42.

Lighting Districts

There are currently 27 Special Improvement Lighting Districts with about 9,429 roadway lights. The majority, 97 percent, of the roadway lights are owned by Northwestern Energy. The city pays a maintenance fee to Northwestern Energy for these lights in addition to a fee which covers the electrical transmission and distribution. The electrical supply for the street lights is currently being furnished by Energy Keepers. The remaining 3 percent of roadway lighting is city-owned.

The lighting district funds are administered by the city finance department.The purpose of the funds is to maintain the light poles and furnish electrical supply for the lighting districts throughout the year. After determining financial factors pertinent to the operation of the special improvement lighting districts, an assessment amount for the next fiscal year is calculated, budgeted and presented to the City Commissioners for approval.

The estimated assessment amount for the lighting district funds for the next fiscal year is $1,170,052.

The total assessment amount reflects an aggregate 0.5 percent increase from the prior fiscal year because of the districts that have had increased maintenance and replacement costs. But the majority of districts will not be increasing because the individual cash balances of those districts are enough to cover the operational costs.