June 22, 2024

City to review budget; Tryon drops push to move library funds to public safety

City Commissioners will review their budget during their Jan. 16 work session.

The city was doing quarterly budget reviews for awhile, but Tuesday’s review will cover the last quarter of the last fiscal year through the second quarter of the current fiscal year, according to the agenda.

The city’s fiscal year runs July 1 through June 30.

After months of discussion on city finances and formal presentations beginning in June, commissioners adopted their budget for the current fiscal year in July.

Library continuing levy implementation; Tryon asks to consider pulling some funding for public safety

They finalized property taxes and assessments in September after awaiting details from the Montana Department of Revenue on a potential tax appeal.

The budget accounted for the library levy that voters approved in June, since those funds would start being collected in December.

The budget did not include the failed public safety levy and bond since those would be voted in November and not collected until December 2024 had they been approved.

[View budget documents]

Since adopting their budget and tax assessments, Calumet Montana Refining has filed an appeal with the Montana Tax Appeal Board, requesting that their taxable value for 2023 be lowered by $189.5 million.

For the first half of the budget yet, Calumet has protested $596,272.38 of city taxes, a number that will be replicated for the second half of the year, bringing the total to around $1.1 million of revenue the city won’t have access to during the protest process.

According to the city budget documents for the Jan. 16 meeting, the total protested city taxes for the first half of the budget year is $644,850.75

Calumet appeals county tax board denial to state

Last summer, the DOR estimated that the city had $1,510,213 in newly taxable properties, which is significantly higher than the finance department’s projection of $400,000. That projection was based on a 22-year average of newly taxable property and city staff said there’s no particular development project that can be identified for the spike.

During their Jan. 2 work session, Commissioner Rick Tryon said that he wanted to consider updating the 1993 library management agreement and take back the seven mills included for the library and put them toward public safety needs after the city’s public safety levy and bond both failed in November.

City officials discuss public safety after levy, bond failure

He asked McIntyre how she would feel about the commission taking away some of those mills, the total of which, he said equated to about $900,000.

McIntyre said during the work session that it would be conversation between the city and the library board and that she hopes the community will see improvements in library services because of the additional funding.

“I’m not making any judgements on what you do or what you have done,” Tryon said, “but we have to look at money, maybe we have to look at the management agreement with the library. We have dire needs in public safety.”

City asks court to dismiss library lawsuit

In November, voters rejected a $13 million public safety operations levy and a $21.17 million public safety infrastructure bond.

Since the levy failed, officials have been reviewing budgets and resources, but police and fire officials have indicated that there will be significant changes coming as a result.

Tryon said during the Jan. 2 meeting that he intended to look at that agreement and put those seven mills into public safety.

McIntyre said staff brought up that management agreement in December 2022 and the commission consensus was to continue that agreement and the seven mills of financial support for library operations.

If commissioners wanted to review that agreement, she asked that they remember a majority voted for additional library funding.

Library working on levy implementation plan

Tryon said he didn’t think that many voters understood the nuances of library funding and that money was needed for public safety.

On Jan. 12, Tryon emailed the other commissioners, McIntyre, City Manager Greg Doyon, Deputy Manager Chuck Anderson and City Attorney David Dennis about the 1993 agreement.

He said he wanted to consider the agreement since it had not been voted by the public and those seven mills weren’t part of the levy on the ballot in June.

Commissioners, library and city officials discussed library funding multiple times since late 2021 and the seven mills were explained by library and city staff during those discussions.

City Commission approves property tax, library levy

In his email, Tryon wrote, “it is now clear to me that there is not a consensus majority on the Great Falls City Commission to go forward with that idea. So rather than spending staff and commission time on a public safety funding plan that the majority of my fellow commissioners will not support, I will not be pursuing that initiative. For now. Adequately funding Great Falls police, fire, and court personnel will remain my top focus as we move into the upcoming city budget process.”

The budget process begins every year with a commission meeting to determine priorities and from there, city departments develop their requested budgets, which the city manager and finance office use to develop the proposed budget.

City assessment increases proposed

There are typically multiple conversations about city finances, resources and needs throughout the spring during commission work sessions and formal budget presentations typically begin in May or June for the budget to be adopted in July or August.

All of those budget meetings are open to the public, though few members of the public have typically attended over the last decade.

City budget 2023: Key things to know

The city is still recovering from COVID and did not take any tax increases during fiscal years 2021 and 2022, using $552,502 and $1,300,466, respectively, of fund balance.

The city used the full tax increases during the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2022, but did not recoup all the lost tax revenue from the previous two years and used $1,205,000 of CARES Act funds to balance the budget.

For the current budget, the city is using the full allowable tax increase and $998,064 of CARES to balance the budget, according to city staff.

City continues review of proposed budget

City Manager Greg Doyon said that the commissioners knew the city was anticipating a revenue shortfall after COVID and had to use CARES funds to offset those deficits.

He said it will probably take a few years to come out of that deficit and the city was underfunded in the baseline budget.

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