Money Money Money |City of Bozeman Annual Budget
Led by City Manager Chris Kukulski and Director of Administrative Services Anna Rosenberry, the City of Bozeman staff rolled out the Fiscal Year 2016-2017 annual budget in late May. (The perhaps-confusing budget title is due to the discussion and ultimate approval that occurs in June of every year.) For the first time in recent history, Kukulski is requesting a budget that meets the maximum allowable property tax rate per Montana law. In years passed, Kukulski has respected a “promise” not to increase the levy above a long-standing barrier 3.5 mils below the cap—but not this year.
“We haven’t hit the ceiling before… It’s an unprecedented budget,” said Bozeman commissioner, Jeff Krauss, during Monday night’s proceedings.
With $30 million sought for roads and transportation funding, the yet-to-be approved budget amounts to $98 million. For taxpayers, they could expect a 5.5% increase in their annual tax burden, an increase from $2,057 to $2,180 for the typical Bozeman property owner.
While the commission has committed themselves, previously, to maintaining our roads and intersections in order to facilitate Bozeman’s prodigious growth, this year’s budget request has drawn skepticism in the community and a few of Bozeman’s civic leaders. Those budgetary items scrutinized include: deferring the improvements of stressed road intersections (at an average of $1.5M, per), overall staffing compensation including a staffing budget increase of over 20% for just the Parks and Recreation Department, the police department’s requests for two new cars and a series of radios, staffing the public library’s new “Bookmobile,” among many others.
The former mayor noted that tax revenues this year are expected to grow by only 1.5%, well below the growth in previous years that have reached 5%-6%. In other words, the proposed taxes are escalating at a faster rate than this community’s comparative ability to pay.
Public turnout was predictably and unfortunately low on Monday; the meeting room seats were mostly filled by City department heads (shirts ironed!). Even after counting nonprofit representatives and members of the media, dozens of empty seats remained.
After the initial presentation by Rosenberry and Kukulski, as well as the elected officials’ questions for department heads and public comment, Mayor Carson Taylor and the commission took the matter of the annual budget up for internal discussion, review, and voting.
A series of budget amendments (mostly cuts) was then proposed by individual commissioners, one-by-one, and many of them passed. The expanding Parks budget was supported after a proposal for a 1.5% deduction in general staff compensation did not gain the needed votes. Ash borers get a pass this year, but maybe not next year. New police cars? Yes, two. The skimpy budget for an emergency winter shelter? Yes. Some of the line-items appeared small and of little impact. Library website improvements. Yep, still in there. And a new, long-range planner that wasn’t even in Kukulski’s original budget request… passed 3-2.
As one of only three citizens who took the podium, the director of the Bozeman Public Library, Paula Beswick, noted during public comment on Monday night, the people of Bozeman will be asked this year to fund a new high school, a new city/county law, and justice center, as well as a new YMCA (to be funded by private donation). In light of that accumulation of large-cap projects, or in spite of it, the City of Bozeman administration seems to be going full steam ahead.