Kalispell Budget Picture Gradually Improving

By Beacon Staff

Kalispell City Manager Jane Howington touted improved cash reserves Monday during a meeting where the city council approved a budget for the current fiscal year.

When hired two years ago, Howington’s primary task was to boost Kalispell’s diminished cash reserve, which had plunged as low as $244,122 in 2009. Though she had forecast it would take up to five years to increase the reserve beyond $1 million, Howington said city employees had worked diligently to trim spending amid declining revenues, and the result was a fiscal situation significantly healthier than in recent years.

“We’re at a million dollars in our reserve fund. Did you ever think that we would be able to do that?” Howington said. “I’m sorry I’m emotional but that’s a very, very hard thing to do.”

Not everyone, however, was pleased with the annual budget. Councilman Bob Hafferman, who voted in favor of last year’s budget for the first time in nine years on the council, became the sole opposing vote once again. He based his “no” vote on budget documents that he said were still too difficult for the general public to decipher, and his objection to the increased mills the city will levy: up from 170.34 mills in fiscal year 2011 to 175.93 in fiscal year 2012.

Mill values, set by the state, decreased slightly from $39,448 to $38,543, which amounts to an overall decrease in Kalispell’s taxable value – and accounts for the increase in the mills levied by the city to account for the decrease in revenue.

“We are raising taxes,” Hafferman said. “This mill levy is plain and simple as you can get to show that we’re asking for an increase in taxes and asking for an increase in the amount of the mill levy, which is higher this year already.”

While the mill levy to pay for the Woodland Park pool and Fire Station #62 decreased slightly, the general fund levy increased along with the health insurance levy due to a 10 percent rise in the cost of premiums. That increase means annual taxes on residential property levied by the city will increase $12-$35, depending on its value.

Other members of council expressed support for the budget.

“If I have to pay $12 to $35 more next year for a stable government I’ll do it,” Councilman Jim Atkinson said.

Mayor Tammi Fisher also complimented city staff on the budget numbers.

“With revenues not going up I think it shows that we have been able to, as a government, slash and burn through a budget in order to get our reserves to where we are healthy fiscally,” Fisher said. “This budget has toed the line.”

That budget will spend $42.8 million this year, including the general fund, debt service funds, enterprise funds, capital project funds and special revenue. Out of that, the general fund, which accounts for the salaries of nearly all city employees, is forecast to be $9.2 million, up from $8.9 million this year. Howington attributed the increased costs to higher health insurance premiums and Kalispell paying a higher share of cost toward the 911 Center. The cash carryover, or reserve, is forecast to be $1,339,425, up from the current level of $1,007,681.

Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup.

Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox.