City plans for future infrastructure while lowering tax bill

| August 26, 2020 1:00 AM

The Whitefish City Council has approved the fiscal year 2021 budget, running from July 1, 2020 through June 30, 2021. This budget message updates our citizens on the city’s financial condition. You can view the adopted budget on the city’s web page at http://www.cityofwhitefish.org/.

While budgets fluctuate from year to year, the FY21 budget is higher than the FY20 due to the city’s continued prudent investment in infrastructure. This year’s increase is not associated with a tax or fee increase, in fact it is the opposite. With the tax increment financing district’s expiration in July 2020 and other newly taxable property, property taxpayers will see a decrease in their city tax bill in FY21.The water treatment plant expansion project, wastewater treatment plant upgrade, and investment in other capital projects account for a majority of the increase. Sewer and water utility rates will not be increased in FY21. To be clear, the city portion of your tax bill is going down.

While spending has increased, the city’s “savings account” has increased because of diligent spending, being good stewards of tax dollars, and reimbursement from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. Since the recession in 2008, the city has been working diligently to increase cash reserves in preparation for another economic downturn or recession. By the end of FY21, our anticipated cash reserves will be about 22%, which is significant and a testament to the city tightening its belt so to speak. The city is prepared to continue providing the essential services our community has come to appreciate and expect even when times get tough.

We know difficult financial times are here as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many businesses and individuals have experienced financial impacts at levels not even seen in 2008. Decreased resort tax collections during FY20 reflect the challenges many of our businesses are facing, and while we have seen a decrease in some economic activity, one area that has remained strong is construction. A total of 327 building permits totaling about $127 million in value were issued in FY20. The FY21 budget reflects only a minor projected slowdown in the coming year due to economic uncertainty.

We too are concerned with the influx of tourists and second home buyers that have inundated our town in part due to the pandemic and their desire to experience the quality of life we have created in Whitefish through the hard work of our locals. We share your concerns and are in the process of developing a sustainable tourism management plan that will target visitors who share our values and contribute to the community, not detract from it. We recognize how increased visitation has affected the sense of place we all live here to experience. While much of these changes are free market driven, we are doing our best to preserve the authentic and unique place we call home.

As your Mayor and City Manager, we strive for inclusive governance, solid planning, and managed growth to preserve the character of our community and the high quality of life for our residents and businesses. We hope you enjoy living and working in Whitefish as much as we do.

Mayor John Muhlfeld and City Manager Dana Smith