By Martin J. Kidston
by Martin J. Kidston
The Havre Daily News
Friday, May 14
When the 1999 State Legislature wielded pens and slashed taxes on business equipment, vehicles and property, the result left Havre city officials scrambling to fill the unsightly hole in the citys budget.
The legislative act that cut in half property taxes on business equipment, cut vehicle taxes by 30 percent and gave an average 8 percent tax break to home owners may ultimately cost the city government $140,000 in lost revenue. Its a big hole that has city officials worried.
Where are you going to skimp? asked Havre Mayor Phyllis Leonard. Weve been working on the same budget for many years, and at the same time, prices have gone up. Everything is going up and our budget is going down.
The budget is going down $140,000, Leonard said, a number which City Clerk and Treasurer Lowell Swenson confirmed.
The Legislature shifted the expenses to the city, Swenson said. Now, its up to the city to make it up.
Less than two months after the Legislature slashed property taxes at the state level, many feel lawmakers simply passed the buck down to local government, leaving cities like Havre looking for compensation.
Its a lot easier for the Legislature to make cuts and let the cities worry about it, Swenson said. Now, if the city wants to generate the same property taxes as last year, it will have to raise the tax levy, otherwise look at cutbacks.
Swenson said budget cuts of any sort would be a decision made by the city council. But because personnel is the largest chunk of the citys budget, in particular police, fire and public works, cuts would likely start with employees. Its a situation that Mayor Leonard hopes to avoid.
The only reason weve been able to keep 19 policemen on the force is because the department is good at writing grants, she said. When those grants dry up, where are we then?
Neither Leonard nor Swenson could comment on who or what would be the first to go in the event of $140,000 worth of budget cuts. Swenson said it was too early to fully realize the repercussions.
It will be a while before we receive our taxable valuation, Swenson said. It will tell us what, exactly, we need to raise in levies to make up for what were losing elsewhere.