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Helena City Commission approves service rates, assessments for next year

Posted at 10:31 PM, Aug 26, 2019
and last updated 2019-08-27 00:31:18-04

HELENA — The Helena City Commission has officially set the city’s service fees and assessments for the next year.

Commissioners held a public hearing on the rates at their meeting Monday night. They approved increases in a number of fees, including for water and wastewater service, street improvements, urban forestry and open lands management.

City Manager Ana Cortez estimated that, for a typical household of four in Helena, the increases would amount to about $11.25 per month, or $135 per year, for the year ending in June 2020.

Leaders said the city is focused on making sure that services like this are fully funded through their fees, which go into separate budget areas known as enterprise funds. They said these increases will help the city pay for long-delayed infrastructure needs.

“We heard the public, we understand what the public values, and this is our attempt to give it to them,” Cortez said.

The commissioners heard from one resident who said she was concerned that rising rates risked pricing people out of their homes, and who asked them to consider how the increases would affect the community.

Commissioners responded that this has been a months-long process, and that they have set the rates at what’s needed to cover service costs.

“Rates is one of the best pictures of the sort of collective good of Helena, because it’s the only time that you will ever see exactly what these things are costing,” said Commissioner Andres Haladay.

Leaders also said the commission had worked hard to keep the increases as small as possible, and make sure they were applied fairly.

“I appreciate all the work that has gone into making sure that we’re keeping these rates as low as we can, but also maintaining the infrastructure that we have, and that we need to,” said Commissioner Heather O’Loughlin.

The commission actually approved proposed fees and assessments for the next two years. In the 2020-2021 fiscal year, that would include an additional estimated increase of $8.43 per month for the typical household. However, Cortez said leaders will look at the rates again next year to make sure they are where they should be.