Havre Daily News
With two of its members voting no, the Havre City Council approved the city budget and set mill levies Thursday night.
Property taxes within the city will increase by about $25 on a $100,000 house. The increase will generate about $63,000 in revenue for the city.
Under state law, the city is allowed to increase the permissive medical tax levy to pay for rising health insurance costs. It is also allowed to increase the general mill levy to equal inflation.
City Council members Allen "Woody" Woodwick and Emily Mayer Lossing were the two dissenting votes on both the budget and the tax levies. Council member Pam Hillery was not present.
"I appreciated the work you've done on this budget," Woodwick told Havre Mayor Bob Rice during the meeting. "I know it's not an easy process. I still think there should have been a few more cuts. I'd also like to see some more efforts made in generating more income."
The total city budget this year is $14.7 million,
One of Woodwick's complaints was the increase in the budget for gas, oil and tires for Rice's travel expenses. Last year, $761 was budgeted for those items. This year, that number increased to $1,650.
Rice said after the meeting the increase is due to the rising costs of those items. He said he is not a mayor who "sits behind a desk.
"I'm out there working, and it takes gas," he said.
Rice also said after the meeting that department heads will be expected to spend less than is budgeted, or "we'd be in trouble for the next budget period."
"We have to count on them being frugal with their budget," he said.
Council member Terry Schend said Rice and the department heads did a good job with the budget, considering the increase in costs in many areas.
"With workman's comp going up ... and the cost of fuel, tires and oil, I think the guys did a lot of work," Schend said. "They cut a lot of stuff out of their budget. They came forward with a very responsible budget and a very lean budget."
He said Woodwick's and Mayer Lossing's votes against the budget were "somewhat irresponsible."
"The only other option would be to lay off people," he said today.
Workers' compensation insurance costs increased by 40 percent this year. Also on the rise were natural gas costs, which went up 25 percent. Comprehensive insurance costs, which include liability, property and auto insurance, are dropping for the coming year from about $135,000 to about $113,000.
Schend and City Council President Rick Pierson said after the meeting that they didn't agree with Mayer Lossing's vote against setting the tax levy, saying that she is a county employee and gets all of her health insurance paid by Hill County.
Mayer Lossing said today she works part time and does not get health insurance through the county.
"I don't get any benefits here except for vacation and sick leave," she said. "I don't know what the big deal is. Why am I being singled out? I have no control over this, even if I was full time. That's a County Commission decision."
Pierson and Schend also questioned whether Hill County sanitarian Clay Vincent had protested the county's tax increase. Vincent had written a letter to the city, as a private citizen, protesting any increase in city taxes. Vincent, who also serves on the Havre-Hill County 911 Board, wrote that he was protesting in light of the City Council's decision not to consolidate emergency dispatch services with Hill County. The city-county board is moving forward with a plan to create two call center locations for enhanced-911 service, with the primary location at the city communications center and a backup at the Hill County Detention Center.
"(Hill County pays) 100 percent of their employees' insurance," Pierson said. "Our city employees have to pay a fee. If the county employees were to pay a portion of their insurance, how much tax dollars would be saved on a yearly basis?"
Pierson also noted that city residents will have to pay the increase in both county and city taxes.
Vincent said the council members missed the point of his protest.
"The county never had the chance to lower their (dispatch) cost," he said today. "They have to run the jail. They have to run the dispatch. But the city had a choice. They could have saved. The county never had the chance to save money. We have to be aware of where our tax dollars come from and spend them wisely."
Vincent had written that the city could have realized savings of between $35,000 and $80,000 per year if it had elected to consolidate dispatch.
After the meeting, Hill County Republican Party chair Brad Lotton handed a Havre Daily News reporter a flier describing a fundraiser in Helena for Hillery, who is the Democratic candidate for mayor. He questioned why Hillery was attending a campaign fundraiser in Helena instead of staying in Havre to vote on the budget.
Hillery said today she planned the fundraiser about a month and a half ago. The vote for the budget was originally set for Wednesday night, but was changed Monday because Rice had a prior commitment. Rice said Thursday night that he had a wedding to perform.
Lotton also questioned why Hillery had to go out of town for fundraising for a Havre election. Hillery said she lived in Helena for almost 12 years.
"I have an incredible base of friends and supporters there who believe strongly in Democratic politics and that there is a reason that we have to have strong, grass-roots Democrats in office," she said.
Lotton also noted that the flier was an invitation from Gov. Brian Schweitzer, state Commerce Director Tony Preite and Lewis and Clark County Commissioner Ed Tinsley.
"How come the governor and the economic development czar are so interested in Havre politics?" Lotton said.
Hillery said she personally knows Schweitzer, and that he is the nephew of her campaign treasurer. She met Preite through her husband, Bear Paw Development Corp. executive director Paul Tuss, and has developed a friendship with him.
"(Preite) has an interest in what goes on in Havre, him being a Havre native himself," Hillery said.