By Krystal Spring/Havre Daily Newsemail@example.com
Havre city officials and department heads tackled a $268,000 budget shortfall to come up with a proposed balanced budget for the fiscal year that began July 1.
Havre Mayor Bob Rice and city finance director Lowell Swenson presented the preliminary budget to the City Council's Finance Committee at a meeting Tuesday night.
Swenson said today the budget proposal - for operations, maintenance and personnel - totals $12.1 million, a slight decrease from last year. To cover the budget, $1.4 million will be levied on city property owners - $44,000 more than last year - increasing the property tax rate from 178.74 mills to 192.39 mills, Swenson said. Based on that, the tax on a home worth $100,000 would increase by about $45.32 per year.
"It took a team effort" to balance the budget without having to eliminate any city employee positions, Rice said Tuesday night.
"A huge chunk of the budget is personnel," Rice said. "Going in, we anticipated having to cut some positions. But everyone really worked together to create a bare-bones budget without cutting personnel."
The preliminary budget contains no money for pay increases for city employees, city officials said.
The preliminary budget will now be presented to the full City Council for a vote.
Rice said today he would not comment on the specific cuts each city department made to balance the budget.
Havre Fire Chief Dave Sheppard said today his department trimmed its budget by eliminating requests, including one for an updated phone system.
"We realize that things are tight right now and we're willing to tighten our belts another notch to help out," Sheppard said today. "Our services and everything will still be the same. There's no cuts there."
Public Works director Dave Peterson said his department also reduced its requests.
"We didn't have to cut any specific amount or anything," he said. "Nothing's different with our services. We just might have to wait a little longer for a piece of new equipment or something, nothing big."
The Havre City-County Library initially requested $267,000 from the city for operations, but library director Bonnie Williamson said today the city offered $257,000 instead - a budget she said the library can live with.
"That seems like an OK number," she said. "We can cut our expenses in areas we have some choice in, like books and programs."
Before this year, Havre's mayors have taken a back seat in the budget process, allowing the Finance Committee to create a budget for the city.
"The Finance Committee basically prepared the budget and presented the final product to the council," Swenson said.
That changed this time around, with Rice taking an active leadership role in the budget meetings. Instead of the Finance Committee preparing the budget, Rice worked with Swenson and the city's five department heads to produce a balanced budget - a challenging task, especially when the departments' initial requests exceeded anticipated revenue by $268,000.
"Everything went so smoothly," Rice said. "We plan to run the budget process this way from now on, at least while I'm in office."
Swenson said the department heads and their assistants received a hands-on lesson in balancing a multimillion-dollar budget, gaining valuable tools in the process.
"Everyone now has a better understanding of the budget process," he said. "Hopefully, that understanding will prove to be a big benefit down the line."
Finance Committee chair Tom Farnham said the mayor's and the city departments' efforts were appreciated by the committee, which in years past spent many hours trying to trim and balance the city's budget.
Rice said he starting meeting with the department heads in June, sometimes once or twice a week to create a balanced budget.
"Everything went extremely well because all our department heads were on board," Rice said.
The budget proposal will be presented to the City Council for preliminary approval Sept. 7 at 8 p.m. at City Hall. The community has an opportunity to comment on the budget at a public meeting Sept. 13 at 7 p.m. at City Hall. Council members must approve the final budget by Sept. 17.