Kalispell City Council voted 8-1 Monday on a revised budget that avoids any staff layoffs, cuts nearly $100,000 out of general fund spending and manages to retain a projected cash reserve of more than $250,000 by the end of the current fiscal year, June 30.
For weeks council members have been grappling with a budget forecasted to burn through all of the city’s cash reserve by next summer, and the specter of job cuts in the police and fire department have loomed, since the payrolls for those departments make up the biggest portion of general fund spending. Much of Kalispell’s revenues have derived from fees attached to growth, and with the economic slowdown, those revenues have fallen short of the city’s expenditures.
The new budget leaves a projected cash reserve of $258,788 at the end of the fiscal year by cutting $99,886 out of the general fund, reducing the total general fund appropriation to $10,555,788. Most council members breathed a sigh of relief that they would not be forced to make layoffs, but concerns remain that the cash reserve is dangerously low for a city of Kalispell’s size, which should have a cash reserve of $1 million to $1.5 million, according to Interim City Manager Myrt Webb.
The lone dissenting vote, Councilman Bob Hafferman, said he opposed the priorities contained within the budget, and the city’s leaders should resolve to first make cuts in departments that don’t provide a direct service to city taxpayers, or city positions funded by fees or grants, before making cuts to departments like police, fire and parks and recreation.
“We don’t need another resolution…what we need is more austere spending of ratepayers’ and taxpayers’ money,” Hafferman said. “I see no reason to legitimize what is being done right now because more can be done.”
Some council members, like Tim Kluesner, said they were voting for the budget because it was “better than nothing,” but acknowledged larger problems remain in the city’s budget, and steeper measures, like pay cuts for city staff, could be necessary.
As in previous meetings, Councilman Hank Olson sounded the alarm that the city’s cash reserves are extremely low and questioned whether Kalispell officials are dodging the larger implications of the city government’s spending remaining too high in light of its diminished revenues.
“We are saving dimes while we’re losing dollars…my fear is we will be broke before we can do anything about it,” Olson said, then added his concern over the cash reserve: “We should be at a million and a half and we’re changing a budget to get to 258(thousand dollars) and nobody seems to be scared of that.”
And, as in previous meetings, Mayor Pam Kennedy and Councilman Duane Larson defended the budget, saying that maintaining public safety departments for the taxpayers must remain the council’s top priority, and police and fire department staffing is already at bare bones levels.
“We’re at a minimum staffing right now and we’re just barely getting by,” Larson said. “Just about every day an incident occurs where if we had any less manpower it could be a disaster.”
Kennedy lamented the additional deep cuts being made to the budget of the Parks and Recreation Department, noting that when programs that once occupied the time and attention of a community’s kids no longer exist, some of those kids can get into trouble, placing an additional burden on the police and fire departments.
“When you say that none of us are scared or that we don’t care…I hope you realize that we care an awful lot,” Kennedy told Olson. “I also believe that we must try to maintain our Police Department and our Fire Department.”
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