Few Budget Changes for Kalispell in Upcoming Year

By Beacon Staff

In what is another time-honored annual spring tradition, the Kalispell City Council took up the preliminary budget last week for the upcoming fiscal year – and it will look a lot like the current year’s budget.

Kalispell City Manager Jane Howington told council members she is keeping the budget level or cutting it wherever possible in an attempt to maintain steadiness through an economic recovery that continues to be shaky at best.

Overall spending for fiscal year 2012, which begins July 1, is forecast at $41,968,625. That includes the general fund, special revenue funds, enterprise funds, debt service and internal revenue funds.

General fund spending, which pays for the salary of most city employees, will be $9,220,470, up from an estimated $8,960,000 by the end of the current fiscal year. In 2010, general fund spending was $9,072,078 and the year before, $8,578,962.

More than half of the general fund is paid for by property taxes, and next year revenue is expected to be $9,247,287. That’s up from an estimated $9,148,151 the current year, and down from $9,323,282 the year before.

That revenue should boost Kalispell’s cash reserve to $864,811 in fiscal year 2012, marking an increase from $837,994 this year. Though Howington noted the cash reserve remains low for a city Kalispell’s size, which should have about $1.5 million in the bank, it’s a significant increase from 2009, when the cash reserve was $244,122. The last year Kalispell had a cash reserve greater than $1.5 million was 2007.

Kalispell is budgeting for no increases in revenue in the coming year, Howington said, though with some development projects and protested tax dollars the county is dealing with, it’s possible the city may see slightly more tax revenue than it currently anticipates.

In fiscal year 2012, Kalispell is also forecast to have 180.80 “FTEs – which means the equivalent of a full-time employee. (For example, two part-time workers might count as one FTE.) That’s down from a high of 203.80 in 2009, but up from as recently as 2004, when there were 151. Of those, Howington is paid the most, with a salary of $112,500. At the low end of the salary scale, court clerks earn $28,188-$28,606.

The single largest increase in the city budget stems from an additional $106,709 Kalispell is obligated to pay as part of its proportional share of the 911 dispatch center. New census data show Kalispell’s population has grown, and as a result, it owes more toward the cost – which Howington described as “frustrating.” The city’s insurance costs have also increased 10 percent, amounting to an additional $85,060. Finance Director Amy Robertson said health insurance costs increased 5 percent the previous year, and stayed flat the year before that.

When questioned by Mayor Tammi Fisher on any other potential liabilities, Robertson said five lots at Old School Station are delinquent in their payments toward the bond financing the development. Howington said the city is also attempting to sell its share of Courtyard Apartments, a low-income housing project, because the rent, which hasn’t been raised since 1994, isn’t sustaining the cost.

Howington also recommended a temporary seal the cracked lid of a “digester” at the wastewater treatment plant from which gas is escaping. Kalispell plans to install security cameras in City Hall, and steel reinforcements behind the bench where city council members sit, for protection in the event of an attack.

The council will continue to look at the budget in coming weeks.