Dillon City Council adopts 2020-21 budget

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

It endured some final wrangling and adjustments to its particulars—as well as a general denunciation of the process that crafted it by one city councilperson.

But the City of Dillon’s Fiscal Year 2020–21 budget gained final approval of the full Dillon City Council at its first regular meeting of September last week.

The city council voted, 7-0, with one of its members abstaining, to approve of the budget last Wednesday and close out the more-than-two-month process that led up to the vote.

For the first time in four years, the city will not have to dig into its cash reserves to help fund the budget.

The budget will charge each city property owner just over 220 mills to help fund it.

That represents a slight increase from the just over 219 mills assessed to local property owners last fiscal year.

That could increase slightly once the city receives the final figures on an amended contract the council agreed to with DOWL Engineering for services it will provide for the Idaho Street Project.

The budget calls for almost $1.5 million in expenditures from the city’s general fund and nearly a million dollars to cover street maintenance costs paid for through fees assessed to city property owners and with some federal cash given the city this year for pandemic relief.

During last week’s meeting, the city council also approved of adopting a budget assessing $120,666 for Dillon Lighting District #33 and $232,997 for the police levy to pay and equip two of the city’s ten police officers that was endorsed by voters several years ago, $150,5939 for the city’s police retirement levy , $73,232 for the Special Improvement District (SID) #34 dedicated to the paving of the city’s DEW area, $10,283 for SID #35 for the paving of the high school parking lot, $9,207 for SID #36 for sidewalks on Montana Street, $47,390 for SID #37 for the improvements on Cottom Street by Dillon School District #10’s campus and $9,709 for Dillon Sprinkling District #1.

The council’s approval last Wednesday came a day before the state deadline for it, according to Mayor Mike Klakken.

“It has to be approved by the first Thursday after the first Tuesday, and that is tomorrow,” said Klakken during discussion on the budget last Wednesday.

“So, that’s why it’s tonight,” explained Klakken.

“You don’t get to receive any tax money. I don’t think you have any rights to write checks,” explained Klakken of what would happen if the council failed to pass the budget until after the state deadline.

“Having been presented this tonight, if we don’t decide it tonight, then the spigot gets turned off as far as revenue?” asked Councilperson Rich Wassall,.

“The city shuts down, basically,” declared City Council President Don Hand told Wassall, who cast the lone ‘abstain’ vote on the budget.

”We’ve got some process problems in this city. Because we continually get into situations...” declared Wassall, in a comment during the meeting about the Idaho Street Project that he extended as a critique of the entire budget process, “where we are essentially converted into a rubber-stamp body and given the option of either ‘agree or bad things will happen.’ And from a time line, I think we can do a lot better than that.”

“I started the budget in June,” replied Klakken, referring to discussions at public meetings involving the city’s administration and members of the city council’s Finance Committee and members of other council committees and members of the public earlier in the summer.

“I took it to the council in July. I went through public hearings in August. Now, we have to vote on it. That was not, in my opinion, pushing something through fast. That was going through the actual process of how a budget is supposed to be done,” stated Klakken.

“I thought this year—with all you’ve had on your plate and everything you’ve done—is pretty stellar. So, I commend you guys for that,” said Police Chief Don Guiberson of his view of the city budget crafting process for the 2020–21 Fiscal Year.

“I guess it ought to be said publically that as much as we’re down to the wire here, it isn’t because of a lack of the Finance Committee or the mayor delivering the budget presenting the budget. Some of this stuff, you have a set of numbers that you don’t get until—when do the final tax numbers actually come in?,” offered Councilperson Raymond Graham.

“The first of August,” said Klakken of the date the city received its taxable values from the Montana Department of Revenue needed to finalize a budget.

“So, realistically, for having a month and six meetings—I think they’ve done a pretty good job on the budget,” said Graham.

“And I think we ought to give them all a round of applause and thank them for the job they did on this budget,” added Graham of the city administration and three members of the council’s Finance Committee—Hand, Dan Nye and Russ Schwandt.

“I agree,” said Councilperson Mary Jo O’Rourke, who attended almost all of the Finance Committee’s summer budget meetings.

O’Rourke’s endorsement came despite her failure earlier in the Sept. 2 meeting to eliminate an item in the budget she had been lobbying against for much of the summer—the transfer of about a half-million dollars in water and sewer funds into a fund for the potential construction of a new shop for the city’s Water & Sewer crew out by the wastewater treatment plant on the north side of the Dillon.

“I am concerned about $500,000 being allocated to begin building a shop,” said O’Rourke, who has repeatedly questioned the cost of the proposed project, as well as other aspects of it.

“I have gone over my reasons, and I want you to know that I have discussed it with lots and lots of people,” said O’Rourke.

“We are not being careful with citizen’s money,” said O’Rourke.

“I think the public is watching what we do on this,” said O’Rourke.

“I don’t have a problem with them watching,” answered Klakken.

“Once again this is just a piggybank,” said Hand, referring to his explanation at other city meetings this summer that the money is just being set aside in case the council approves the project in the future—and that having the money set aside could help the city attract grant monies for the project.

“The project will have to be approved before we spend the funds,” Hand reminded O’Rouke.

“If we get the money in there, if we could get a $500,000 grant, then...” said Councilperson Raymond Graham.

“When you wish upon a star,” smiled O’Rourke.

The FY 2020–21 city budget will also assess city property owners about $100,000 for the city library, just over $190,000 for city employees health insurance and retirement benefits, and over $44,000 for comprehensive liability as part of its general fund spending.

“Is it perfect? Probably not,” said Graham of the city budget, which represents just educated estimates of expenditures.

“But that’s what they make budget amendments for.”