On the Agenda: Public Hearing on Kalispell Budget Tonight

By Beacon Staff

Kalispell City Council will hold a public hearing tonight, taking comment on its preliminary budget for the 2009-2010 fiscal year.

The overall city budget, which began July 1, is estimated at $45.8 million, which includes enterprise funds, special revenue funds and capital projects. The council will meet in September to formally adopt a final budget, based on levy information from the state that usually becomes available in August. There will be no votes on the budget tonight; it is simply an opportunity for the public to voice their concerns.

Kalispell’s budget has been the chief issue facing city officials for the last year, with the focus primarily on the general fund. An over-reliance on fees from new development through the recent boom years of 2005-2007 curtailed sharply when the economy bottomed out last year, and the general fund, along with its cash reserve, has borne the brunt of the recession.

While the general fund only comprises about 20 percent of the overall city budget, it funds the salaries of public safety officials and most city staff. As such, cuts in this area tend to be the most difficult, and city council members have taken pains over the last year to avoid laying off city employees. Beginning to rebuild a dwindling cash reserve will be the primary task of incoming city manager Jane Howington when she starts work next month.

General fund expenditures over the last fiscal year were $400,000 lower than the year before, according to Interim City Manager Myrt Webb’s May 12 memo to the council, and in FY2010 general fund spending will be an additional $150,000 lower.

“Despite these reductions the general fund reserve has fallen from a comfortable 15 percent in FY2007 to less than 2 percent projected in the FY2010 budget,” Webb wrote in the memo. “The further drop in reserves, despite the budget cuts and hiring freeze, indicate the city is still operating at a level it cannot afford.”

General fund revenues are estimated at $9,105,591 for the upcoming fiscal year, based on 3 percent growth rate and 1.1 percent inflation. This revenue estimate is lower than the previous year, mainly because it no longer includes the Parks and Recreation Department, which was moved to a special revenue fund to avoid having its budget further decimated by general fund cuts. Recommended spending totals $9,100,857, leaving a year-end cash reserve of $141,281. Webb has previously recommended a city Kalispell’s size should have a reserve of $1 million or greater.

A hiring freeze will continue this year for any department paid through the general fund, and no salary increases will occur except those already obligated by contract.

Also on tonight’s agenda:

–Accessible Space, Inc. has requested a conditional use permit to build a 23-unit assisted living apartment building on 2 acres located at the eastern end of Indian Trail Road.

–Thomas, Dean & Hoskins, in behalf of Lee and Linda Hershberger, is requesting a one-year extension of the preliminary plat for the Autumn Creek subdivision.

–West View Estates is requesting final plat approval for its third phase, consisting of 30 single-family lots and one two-acre city park located on West Reserve Drive, just east of the intersection with Stillwater Road.

–The council will examine an agreement between Kalispell and Flathead County for the construction and maintenance of the Sam Bibler Trail, which would run south along Willow Glen Drive from the Woodland Trail intersection to FFA Drive.

After the formal meeting, the council will hold a work session, at which no formal votes are allowed, to look at the Buffalo Hills Golf Course Lease and Kalispell’s Payment-in-Lieu-of-Taxes (PILT) policy.