The Helena City Commission officially adopted a budget for the next two years Monday, setting a list of new priorities for the city.
The budget includes about $45 million in general fund spending and $141 million from other funds over two years.
There are a number of major changes in this budget, compared to previous years. City leaders said it was the first time they went through a biennial budgeting process. They also established a permanent 21% reserve fund for emergencies and put money aside for the city to try out new initiatives.
Commissioner Andres Haladay said one of the most important changes was ensuring that the city spent essentially as much general fund money as it took in. The final budget had about $22,500 more in general fund expenditures than general fund revenues.
“Two years ago, our approved budget for the fiscal year was a deficit of approximately $545,000,” Haladay said. “Last year’s was a $792,000 deficit. So with those discussions of that question of reductions in services and questions of fiscal stability of the city, a $23,000 deficit coming out of reserves is, I think, a monumental achievement for this commission and the staff.”
The final adopted budget is very similar to the preliminary budget City Manager Ana Cortez introduced last month. That proposal included about $1.4 million in general fund spending cuts, to meet the commission’s new criteria. Some of the biggest proposed changes included eliminating $400,000 that would usually be set aside for large capital purchases and maintaining acting chiefs for the Helena Fire Department and Helena Police Department for one year.
Commissioners did approve several minor amendments to the preliminary budget, including a $150,000 increase in a fire levy, to pay for repairs at a Helena fire station.
City leaders said they had heard a number of questions about the new initiatives funded through this budget, so Cortez outlined those proposals. Among the larger ones are working on downtown development and housing issues, expanding code enforcement and increasing the number of street crews.
“Those were the priorities that the commission discussed, as far as being priorities to the community,” said Cortez. “We were trying to be responsive to housing, we were trying to be responsive to safety on sidewalks, we were trying to be responsive to ensuring that we had good procurement efforts, responsive to ensuring that we were doing the right thing for the police department, and so on and so forth. So all of these initiatives that are included in the budget, we hope truly reflect the priorities for the residents in the city of Helena.”
During their Monday meeting, the commission also set public hearings on Aug. 26, to discuss proposed increases to the city’s water and wastewater fees. Leaders say they are considering increasing fees to address rising service costs.
-Reported by Jonathon Ambarian/MTN News