Whitefish city budget reflects prudent spending

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The Whitefish City Council has approved the Fiscal Year 2019 (FY19) Budget, running from July 1, 2018 through June 30, 2019. You can view the adopted budget on the city’s web page at http://www.cityofwhitefish.org/.

As your Mayor, City Council, and City staff, we are committed to prudent spending and care of taxpayer dollars. The FY19 Budget not only maintains the existing level of service, but also makes great strides to improve areas of concern voiced by residents, including snow plowing and affordable housing.

The FY19 budget totals $44.2 million and is $3.2 million or 8 percent higher than the FY18 Budget. Of the $44.2 million appropriated, $33.7 million represents actual expenditures and $10.5 million accounts for transfers between the city’s 29 budgeted funds. More than half of the increase in appropriations is due to increased spending of $2 million for the new wastewater treatment plant facility that was mandated by both the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Montana Department of Environmental Quality. The remaining portion of the budgeted increase is due to increased operating transfers, including an increase in property tax relief from Resort Tax of $193,302, rising costs for current operations and improvements.

Cash reserves for capital improvements, property tax relief from resort tax of $1.37 million, a 2.18 percent growth in the city’s taxable value for newly taxable property at $65,227, a $2 million wastewater revenue bond, and increases in the city’s four maintenance assessments all help fund a portion of the increased budget. While maintenance assessments are increasing, we are pleased to report that the number of mills levied by the city remains the same as FY18 at 120.47 mills. This was a policy decision made by the City Council to keep taxes down for our residents.

So, what does this mean for the average homeowner? The average home valued at $350,000 can expect an increase of about $4.75 per month. This increase allows the city to keep up with the rising costs of current operations and address the following:

• Improve timeliness of alley snow plowing.

• Hire a housing coordinator position to assist in the implementation of the Whitefish housing plan and work with developers of affordable housing units. Most of the position will be funded with tax increment financing as housing was identified as a priority in the city’s urban renewal plan.

• Improve enforcement of city regulations related to short-term rentals.

• Extend the hours of boat inspections to protect Whitefish Lake from aquatic invasive species at both City Beach and State Park boat launches.

• Improve maintenance and replacement of city trees both on the streets and in our parks.

• Finish the conversion of all street lights to LED so future operating and maintenance costs are reduced.

• Hire an information technology (IT) administrator to help gain efficiencies using technology, improve security of city data and systems, and assist the Police Department in related forensic investigations involving IT.

With the help of property tax relief from resort tax of $1.3 million in FY19, our visitors have contributed to these improvements by reducing the burden on property taxpayers. Resort tax also funds street projects, such as the newly constructed Somers Avenue, many park improvements throughout town, such as the newly renovated City Beach restrooms, and pays for the Haskill Basin conservation easement loan.

As the first month of FY19 is complete, we continue to see healthy economic construction activity and increases in our resort tax collections. We are hopeful this continues throughout FY19.

We continue to strive for inclusive governance, solid planning, and managed growth to preserve the character and high quality of life for our residents and businesses. Please stay involved and informed by attending Whitefish City Council meetings, viewing meetings live online, and reading the city’s quarterly newsletter Stumptown Scoop.

— Mayor John Muhlfeld and City Manager Adam Hammatt

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