By Krystal Spring/Havre Daily Newsemail@example.com
The Havre City Council approved a $12.1 million budget Tuesday night, and it also set the tax levy for this year.
To cover the city's budget, which includes operations, maintenance and personnel, $1.4 million will be collected from city property owners - $44,000 more than last year - increasing the property tax rate from 178.74 mills to 192.39 mills.
Based on that, the tax on a property worth $100,000 will increase by about $45. The tax hike amounts to a 9.15 percent increase.
City finance director Lowell Swenson said today the budget includes a 0.5 percent across-the-board longevity raise for all permanent city employees. Otherwise, employees will not receive a pay raise.
The council voted 7-1 in favor of the budget and the mill levy. Council member Emily Mayer Lossing was the dissenting vote both times.
"I represent people on fixed incomes that can't afford another increase in taxes," she said.
Mayer Lossing said the property tax increase affects all city residents, but the working poor and fixed-income people will be hit the hardest.
"They'll be paying for medical insurance for city workers that they can't even afford for themselves and their families," she said.
Swenson said 17.11 mills will be levied for the permissive medical fund, to cover city employees' health insurance costs. Last year 8.28 mills were levied. Swenson said the increase is needed, as health premiums continue to rise.
Last year the city agreed to pay half of a 45 percent increase in health insurance premiums. The city employees' labor unions are negotiating new contracts with the city, and the city's contribution hasn't been set.
In the new budget, the city also increased its contracted services fund from $5,600 last year to $29,000. Swenson said the fund covers legal services for the city.
"That will pay for lawsuits against the city, like the one from the Daily News," he added.
The Havre Daily News and eight other newspapers and news organizations sued the city of Havre and three Police Department supervisers, including former police chief Kevin Olson, alleging that the department violated Montana law when information was blackened out in a police report turned over to a newspaper reporter.
Swenson said only one change was made from the preliminary budget to the final budget. The Havre City-County Library found out it would receive $4,000 more than it initially anticipated from the state.
The city's five departments' initial budget requests had exceeded anticipated revenue by $268,000, but Mayor Bob Rice worked with Swenson and the department heads to produce a balanced budget for the fiscal year that began July 1.
In years past, Havre's mayors have taken a back seat in the budget process, allowing the council's Finance Committee to create a budget for the city and present the final product to the council for approval. That changed this year, with Havre Mayor Bob Rice taking an active leadership role in the budget meetings.
"Everything went well" during the budget process, Rice said today. "The department heads were more active in their role as managers and they learned exactly how the budget works, from start to end."
The departments helped the city trim its budget by eliminating requests, like an updated phone system for the Fire Department and new equipment for the Public Works Department.
"I thought the process went really well," Swenson said. "I was a little leery when we started because the budget requests were so far over what we could levy. But we managed to balance the budget without any personnel cuts."