On The Agenda: City Council Grapples with Reduced Budget

By Beacon Staff

Kalispell’s budget woes top the agenda tonight for a city council work session at 7 p.m. Interim City Manager Myrt Webb has crafted a budget that cuts no jobs, but manages to reduce enough administrative costs so that the city’s cash reserve at the end of the current fiscal year will be $258,788, up from $8,000. Webb plans to put the current budget proposal up for a vote at the Dec. 15 council meeting. No votes are allowed at a work session.

In a memo to the council, Webb noted that under this new proposed budget, Kalispell continues to “spend general fund resources at a pace faster than revenues are received.” This budget spends $214,839 of the city’s cash reserve, down from its current level of $474,000. That balance is “extremely low” for a city the size of Kalispell’s, with a general fund of roughly $10 million, Webb wrote.

Webb’s current proposed budget would cut general fund costs from $10,654,841 down to $10,555,655.

“It is difficult to predict how far into the next fiscal year the general fund will last,” Webb added. “The lock down on hiring and capital expenditures cannot last indefinitely.”

At its Nov. 24 work session, the council confronted the fact that at current spending levels, Kalispell’s general fund budget would barely remain solvent through the summer, and would burn through most of the city’s cash reserve. Since 2002, Webb wrote in a prior memo to council, too much of Kalispell’s core general fund expenses, like employee salaries, benefits and insurance, have become dependent primarily on volatile sources of revenue like growth fees – which have dropped off with the economic and construction slowdown.

At that meeting, Webb suggested a 5.6 percent decrease in spending across all city departments paid for by the general fund. And because payroll for the fire and police departments makes up the biggest portion of the general fund, layoffs to firefighters and police officers were on the table. Council members made clear they did not want to cut any public safety positions, and at subsequent meetings, firefighters and police officers have expressed strident opposition to layoffs in their departments.

Also tonight, council will hear a presentation about the lack of parking in downtown Kalispell and its effect on businesses and growth.

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