Relief, as Kalispell Set to Vote on Balanced Budget

By Beacon Staff

There was an atmosphere of relief at the Kalispell City Council Monday night as city staff presented a balanced budget that minimizes job cuts, does not deplete Kalispell’s cash reserves, but does reduce service to the public in several ways. The council will vote on the budget at its next meeting, Sept. 22.

The city council got a look at the third version of the general fund budget for the 2008-2009 fiscal year, which, as proposed in its current form totals $10,654,841. That’s down $696,157 from the budget originally proposed in August, which totaled $11,350,998. The current budget proposal forecasts having $473,627 in Kalispell’s cash reserves as of June 30, 2009 – roughly the same amount that exists there now.

No major programs or positions were slashed, instead, just about every city expense was reduced slightly, from $500 in office supplies for the Planning Department to $3,000 in equipment from the Police Department.

Only three city employees actually lost their jobs: two positions in the Parks and Recreation Department, and a building code inspector. In other instances, a fire prevention officer was moved over to fill a vacancy as a firefighter. The hours of two jobs in the Planning Department were reduced from full-time to part-time. The budget, as currently proposed, preserves a city court clerk position previously slated for elimination. There was general agreement that the fire prevention officer and building inspector positions needed to be added back as soon as possible.

While the council deliberated over the budget at a work session, at which no votes are allowed, earlier in the night, during the formal meeting, council voted to add a fire engine and ambulance response fee, expected to generate about $50,000 in the remainder of this year, and about $100,000 annually.

Council voted unanimously to add a fire engine response fee of $250 for every car accident in the city of Kalispell the department responds to, and an ambulance fee of $200 for every ambulance response outside the city of Kalispell. Kalispell residents are exempt from the ambulance response fee. Kalispell Fire Department will also bill for medical supplies when it is permitted by the patient’s insurance.

While the council seemed pleased with the budget, Councilman Jim Atkinson pointed out that the public needed to acclimate to a reduction in services. When, for example, the roads aren’t plowed promptly after a snow, or no one is available to answer the phone at Parks and Recreation, it’s no one’s fault: it’s simply the result of the city scaling back as a result of the budget crunch.

“Members of the community are going to see some reductions in services that they aren’t used to and haven’t been used to,” Atkinson said. “We’re all in this together and we all need to understand that the services that citizens have expected from the city have been pared down and they’re going to see some change.”