Council, city discuss preliminary budget numbers
Whitefish Pilot | June 22, 2022 1:00 AM
Whitefish City Council met twice to hear from each city department head and review the proposed FY23 budget. The total proposed budget for fiscal year 2023 is $50.9 million compared with last year’s approved budget of $49.8 million.
Council is scheduled to adopt the preliminary budget at their regular meeting on June 20 and the final version of the budget will be ready for approval in August.
“I like to think that our budget has been very conservatively prepared,” City Manager Dana Smith said. “Not only from minimizing the impacts to our taxpayers but also ensuring the city is in a great place to sustain any economic downturn that might occur in the next year or two.”
Total capital spending in FY23 is projected to decrease $5.2 million compared to the prior year as construction wraps up on both the wastewater treatment plant upgrade project (decrease of $3.49 million) and the water treatment plant expansion project (decrease of $1.2 million).
The projected amount of funds collected from the city’s resort tax in FY22, $4.79 million, is the highest total since the resort tax began in 1996. Resort tax is a 3% tax collected from lodging, retail purchases, and at bars and restaurants.
Revenue from the resort tax is used to service streets, parks and greenlands and the Haskill Basin Conservation Easement while a percentage of it is used for property tax relief. According to Smith, the Haskill Basin Conservation Easement bond is expected to be paid for in whole by resort tax in FY23. The record amount of resort tax collected will also provide an additional tax rebate to property owners.
According to the city, the need to retain employees is of the utmost importance to ensure exceptional service to Whitefish. Modest increases of 4% to 3.5% for the past two years means wages have not kept up with the rate of inflation. The FY23 proposed wage adjustment is 7%.
Additionally, many departments have positions they need to fill. The budget includes adding seven new positions and increasing the hours of two firefighter positions due to the record growth in Whitefish. Other proposed positions include a police officer, a firefighter, a second assistant fire chief, a new human resources position, a code enforcement officer for the planning department, a building inspector and a new facilities maintenance position in the parks and recreation department.
The proposed Police Department budget shows an increase in expenditures of approximately $130,000.
The department currently has 17 sworn officers and plans to add another.
“The new position will be assigned to patrol and will assist with the steady increase of calls for service that we have seen over the past five years and the increase in both tourism and overall population,” Whitefish Chief of Police Bridger Kelch said.
In terms of materials and supplies, Kelch said the department is looking to buy a couple portable radios that cost about $5,000 each because communication is crucial in law enforcement.
“Radios are probably one of the more expensive things that we purchase,” Kelch said. “I think the city bought five radios last year.”
According to the staff report, the department has budgeted $60,000 to buy a fully equipped, hybrid patrol vehicle. Kelch explained they are able to reuse several components from an old vehicle, such as the radio, camera, lights, cage, and computer mounts to save on costs.
The Fire Department is in need of another firefighter/paramedic position as well as an assistant fire chief. The city has applied for the SAFER Grant from the federal government this year to fund one new position and if granted, it will provide the city with three years to prepare to take over the costs.
“Most fire departments are judged based on the value of the property they protect. Kalispell is the number one property jurisdiction in the county. The City of Whitefish is second, Whitefish fire service center is third. So we protect the most property value in the county. It’s also the biggest area in the county,” said Whitefish Fire Chief Joe Page. “Staffing is a problem.”
Long term injuries and retirement have hurt the department's staffing so Page spoke of plans to interview eight applicants.
The Fire and Ambulance Fund has four capital projects slated for this year. Two are carryovers from FY22, including the purchase of a brush truck to replace the department’s 22-year-old truck, and the purchase of a fire engine. The fire engine is designed to service rural communities, with four-wheel drive and the ability to respond to wildfires.
The third capital project is an air boat to replace a 2006 hovercraft. Part of this cost is covered by a BNSF grant and a Whitefish Community Foundation grant. The final capital project is a command vehicle.
Overall, revenues for the in FY23 are expected to remain similar to those in FY22 and expenditures for the fire and ambulance fund are expected to rise by about $400,000.
Planning and Building
Planning and Building Director Dave Taylor said, “We’re still in a building boom in this town. We had a 20% increase (in total number of units) between 2020 and 2021, 40% increase in two years in the number of units. The total number of permits was up 66%. We are also short staffed right now.”
The main increase in the proposed FY23 budget for the planning department is about $94,000 to hire a code enforcement officer to support short-term rental enforcement efforts.
Additionally, the department’s use of consulting services is slated to increase to support staff with the housing assessment and strategic plan updates, growth policy and other projects. The total amount budgeted for this purpose is $165,000.
Among the department’s capital improvement projects is a vehicle and a storage building to keep trucks and snow tires and use for other storage.
Parks and Recreation
The Parks and Recreation Department expects to see total revenues up by over $310,000 in FY23. Most of that increase, $222,723, is due to a transfer from the general fund to cover increasing personnel costs, a market rate adjustment for seasonal staffing and inflationary impacts.
Other increases are expected from the City Beach concessions, summer day camp revenues and recreation programs.
Another portion comes from transfer of funds from the water fund to support the aquatic invasive species boat inspection station at Whitefish Lake State Park.
Capital projects for the parks and recreation department includes Phase 3 of the Armory Park Improvement Project, Mountain Trails volleyball courts and snowblower attachments.
The department plans to hire a facilities maintenance technician. There is currently one worker in city facilities who cares for all the facilities, including the Armory area and for all the bike paths.
The Public Works Department contains two primary field groups: utility operations, which is concerned with water treatment, and construction/maintenance.
Public Works Director Craig Workman explained one problem with hiring help is finding someone who is well versed in both areas. The position of deputy director is still open and has proven difficult to fill.
One project currently underway is the Texas Avenue and Edgewood Place reconstruction project. The section on Edgewood from Colorado Avenue to Texas Avenue was completed in the spring of 2022 while the section from Texas to the county line is slated to be completed by spring of 2023.
Roadway repair is a priority and the budget for FY23 shows a 4% increase for the work. The city’s viaduct improvements are budgeted for $300,000 and the budget shows $250,000 planned for completion of the Monegan paving project.
The department expects to begin design for water storage south of town and has budgeted $500,000 for it while the Spokane Avenue watermain replacement is expected to cost $3.5 million, 25% of which will be paid for with impact fees.
Water rates are anticipated to increase by .8% and the wastewater fund should see a decrease in costs because less chemicals are needed with the new plant.
The public works department is looking to spend $135,000 on capital equipment including a truck and an asphalt recycling machine from the water fund, $175,000 on capital equipment from the street fund and $210,000 from the wastewater fund for a sewer cleaner, a truck and other equipment.