Council begins budget review

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Whitefish City Council last week held its first review of the draft fiscal year 2020 city budget.

The total budget is $53.5 million compared to the fiscal year 2019 budget of $44.2 million.

The draft budget plans for a 6.58 percent increase in property tax revenue for the city as a result of a projected increase in the city’s mill value.

While spending is set to increase in the budget by $9.2 million or at a rate of 20 percent higher than last year’s budget this is mostly due to an increase in capital projects listed at $8.3 million.

City Manager Adam Hammatt said the city has been planning for several capital projects.

“We’ve been expecting several capital projects to ramp up our spending in the next few years,” Hammatt said. “We knew we’d be borrowing money for these and we’ve planned for that. We won’t be raising taxes because of the increase in spending for capital projects.”

Topping the list of capital projects for FY20 is the new wastewater treatment plant construction with $9.4 million budgeted to be spent on construction as the project begins this year. The other major capital project in the budget is expansion of the water treatment plant with $1.4 million budgeted for FY20.

The city was recently notified by the state Department of Environmental Quality that it must expand its water treatment plant to meet demand. This is one of the burdens of being a popular travel destination, Hammatt noted.

“They want us to make sure our water system can handle the greatest demand days that come in July and August when our population balloons to 20,000 even though it’s not at that all year round,” he said.

The proposed budget calls for levying 118 mills, compared with 120 in FY2019 and 120 levied in FY2018.

Last week City Council held its first budget work session to take a closer look at the individual departments.

Council asked to remove one line item from the draft budget — $75,000 listed to be spent on the mapping of Whitefish Lake.

Mayor John Muhlfeld said it was premature to spend money on the mapping before updating the city’s lakeshore regulations, which Council previously has favored.

City Council is set to hold a second budget work session on Monday, June 10 at 5:30 p.m. at City Hall. It will hold a public hearing on the preliminary budget on June 17, and hold a second hearing on Aug. 19 when it is expected to approve the final budget document.

The entire proposed FY20 budget document is located under city news on the city’s website at http://www.cityofwhitefish.org/.

Library

Whitefish Community Library director Joey Kositzky said the library has issued 10,000 library cards and sees 80,000 visitors come through the door per year.

The library budget shows an increase in revenue of $13,800 due to the anticipated taxable value growth, and an increase in the repair and maintenance services costs of $3,500.

Kositzky said the library continues to plan for necessary maintenance expenses that are the result of an aging building.

Police

The police department budget calls for purchasing a new police vehicle at a cost of $40,000 as the result of a Stonegarden equipment grant.

The police budget also calls for an increase of $10,000 in spending for operating and repair, and maintenance supplies for aging equipment.

The budget calls for adding a new police officer to the department beginning in January 2020 at a cost of almost $40,000.

Chief Bill Dial pointed out that in 2009 the city had 17 police officers and today it has 16.

“The city has grown exponentially since then,” he said. “We’d like to work with the school district too in future years to add one or two more school resources officers.”

Muhlfeld said the police department has been operating with minimal staff for many years and he supports adding officers.

“They often face multiple calls at one in our downtown area,” he said. “The increase in population has only added more demand for police and fire services.”

Fire and ambulance

The fire department budget includes a capital equipment purchase of a fan boat at a cost of $75,000 to replace the inflatable watercraft and hovercraft. The purchase is dependent upon a successful grant award or donation.

Fire Chief Joe Page said the fan boat would better align with the needs of the department and current equipment is aging and in-need of repair.

Also part of the fire department budget, is an increase is spending of about $35,000 for the city’s employer contribution from a rate increase in worker’s compensation for firefighters. The city’s insurance provider is increasing costs as a result of the Montana Firefighter Protection Act that was signed into law in April.

The act provides worker’s compensation for firefighters for many work-related illnesses including for exposure to hazardous chemicals that can lead to serious medical conditions like a heart attack and certain types of cancer.

Parks and Recreation

The Parks and Recreation budget includes an increase in revenue anticipated as a result of the proposed increase of the city’s greenways and parkland assessment for capital purchases and maintenance operations. The assessment is proposed to increase by about $3.14 per residential property for a total increase in revenue for the city of $28,000.

The budget includes spending $10,720 for materials and services for new and replacement trees in the urban forestry program.

Parks and Recreation Director Maria Butts said during fiscal year 2019 the city planted 96 trees and removed 27 hazardous trees, and pruned numerous trees.

“There is always going to be some work that needs to be done on our urban forest,” she said. “We’re planting more trees than we are removing.”

Capital project purchases include a portable compressor at a total cost of $20,000 with the cost split between city departments, and $10,000 for a vehicle equipment lift.

Resort tax and TIF

The resort tax budget anticipates an increase in revenue of $236,000 based upon anticipated increases in collections during FY19.

Expenditures in the resort tax fund, include $1.8 million for the reconstruction of State Park Road, $30,000 for equipment for bike path maintenance, $80,000 for a playground at Armory Park, $160,000 to be spent on bike path connections and just over $1 million to be spent for the loan for the city’s portion of the purchase of the Haskill Basin conservation easement.

The tax increment finance district budget is expecting an increase in revenue of $650,000 as a result of an increase in property tax revenue due to reappraisal and newly taxable property in the district.

Expenditures include $1.3 million paid to the Whitefish School District, $1 million spent on the Depot Park improvement project and $3.7 million to pay for the loan for the construction of City Hall and the parking structure, and $200,000 to be spent on repairs to the Central Avenue road slump.

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