GREAT FALLS – Great Falls city manager Greg Doyon says the Great Falls Police Department and Great Falls Fire Rescue have asked for additional staffing for the past several years.
“When we talk about adding staff we went to make sure they are needed and we can sustain them,” Doyon said.
This year was no different, and the agencies asked for an additional six police officers and six firefighters.
Doyon says that city commissioners had a lot of requests but not a lot of money to work with.
Doyon says there were more capital items that took center stage than being able to add more city staff.
He says that both the fire and police chiefs are concerned about staffing at their departments.
“There is always this balance between meeting operational expectations, making sure we are responding to calls, and taking care of business whether it is fire or police related, and also dealing with the capital expenses we have. We have a lot of deferred maintenance items,” Doyon said.
Doyon says at the end of the day they are doing the right thing and prioritizing what they need to at this time.
(JULY 17, 2018) The Great Falls City Commission unanimously voted to adopt the annual budget and an intent to increase property taxes on Monday evening during two public hearings.
The 2019 total budget is $117.9 million and the fiscal impact for the increase is expected to be $6.14 on a residential home with a taxable market value of $100,000.
The city reported that if the inflation mills and permissive medical levy are not approved, the general fund would be short $427,721.
According to Melissa Kinzler, the city’s finance director, the city does not consider the budget finalized until taxable valuations are received from the Montana Department of Revenue and adopted by the City Commission. That usually occurs during the second meeting in August, which is scheduled for August 21.
At a special work session on July 11, city officials discussed the Morony Natatorium Pool, which is not included in the annual budget and requires an estimated $539,834 to $612,526 in repair costs.
The City currently operates three outdoor pools and one indoor pool. The outdoor pools, including the Wave Rider at Electric City Water Park, are also in need of maintenance.
During the special work session, the permanent closure of the Natatorium was projected for January of 2019 while facilitating more programming and lessons at the outdoor pools during the open season.
“When people ask me about the Nat, all I can tell you is that in my many conversations about it and the reports that we have received, I don’t believe its safety allows us to keep it open,” Commissioner Mary Sheehy Moe said. “I can’t in good conscience keep it open for another year without making major improvements to the facility.”
Moe stated that her approval of the city budget was contingent on another plan for the people who use and need the Natatorium. She said she’s worked with the city manager to come up with several alternatives although a plan has not been implemented.
Commissioner Owen Robinson echoed Moe’s sentiments and said he was in favor of finding a short-term and possibly long-term solution to the Natatorium’s impending closure. Robinson also expressed his disappointment with the budget not reaching the needed amounts for the police and fire departments.
“We’re getting to the point where it’s very, very difficult to have public safety to the level that we would like,” he said.
Commissioner Bill Bronson said that the combined budgets of the police and fire departments alone are $22.5 million, which he said was more than $3 million over the property tax revenue.
“I know in many instances you’d like to see more being provided,” Commissioner Bill Bronson said. “The bottom line is we try to do the best we can with what we have.”
But Bronson said the tax bases have grown in the last few years and he’s optimistic the Commission will be able to do more in the near future.
Although one man did state his belief that the city should provide physicals for all emergency responders, no public comments were made during both public hearings.
Click here to read the 2019 budget or view accompanying documents and summaries.
Reporting by Margaret DeMarco and Natalie McAlpine for MTN News