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Helena City Commission to set service rates, assessments for next year

Posted at 6:58 PM, Aug 21, 2019
and last updated 2019-08-21 20:59:02-04

The Helena City Commission is set to determine the next year’s rates and assessments for city services.

Commissioners will hold public hearings on more than a dozen rates and assessments at their meeting Monday. City staff has proposed increases in a number of fees, like for water and wastewater service.

Helena city manager Ana Cortez said leaders want to make sure that these services are fully funded through their fees, which go into separate budget areas known as enterprise funds.

“We have to always be balanced,” she said.

Cortez said the fund most in need of additional revenue was the streets maintenance and improvements fund. The city has proposed increasing that assessment $34 per year on each vacant or residential parcel – from about $172 to about $206.

Cortez said the increase would raise about $1 million, which the city could then use to bond for additional funding for larger road projects – many of them long-delayed.

“It’s not just maintenance; it’s construction,” she said.

The increased assessment would also help pay for additional streets personnel, to handle maintenance and snow plowing needs.

Leaders have also proposed a substantial increase in the urban forestry assessment, from $21 a year to $39 on all properties. Cortez said that money will be used as the city seeks to remove and replace many of the green ash trees in the city. Green ash, which currently make up more than 60% of Helena’s urban trees, are highly susceptible to a destructive insect called the emerald ash borer.

Not every rate is set to increase. The city’s garbage service fees will not change, as Cortez said the solid waste fund is in a strong enough position that they can add staff without raising rates. The storm water assessment is set to remain the same for residential parcels, though it could go up next year.

Cortez said the city wants to make sure, if the public pays more, they get something substantial.

“The commission is very, very, very focused on the notion that if we increase rates, there has to be a tangible result,” she said. “We cannot just ask for rate increases and show the same level of effort.”

She said the city will look at the rates again next year, to ensure they are at the appropriate level.

“We don’t want to be in a situation where our enterprise funds have too much money, because if they have too much money, then we’re overcharging the residents of the city,” she said. “At the same time, we don’t want to be so tight that we don’t have funds for debt or for capital.”