Tax hikes may be considered for maintenance

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The Kalispell City Council tonight is asking for opinions on tax increases being considered to shore up the city’s street and light maintenance and urban forestry operations. 

Special assessment property taxes for the programs are charged each year in addition to Kalispell’s general fund, health insurance and general obligation bond tax levies. 

If the proposal is approved, rates for the special assessments would gradually increase over five years.

Without more money, greater efficiencies or cuts in services, some of the programs are projected to run out of cash as soon as 2015. 

The proposed rate increases would keep each program solvent through at least 2023, city officials have said.

Kalispell’s light maintenance assessment has not been increased since 2003 and is struggling to cover higher electricity, labor and equipment costs. 

The higher rate for street maintenance would raise additional money for pavement replacement projects and about $200,000 in equipment purchases expected to be needed in the next five years. The assessment was last increased in 2008.

The increase for urban forestry would be temporary and drop after five years. It would raise money for equipment and a targeted plan to cut down the last of Kalispell’s elm trees dying from Dutch elm disease. 

With the full increases in place in five years, the owner of an 8,632-square-foot residential lot would pay about $74 a year more than the existing street and light maintenance and urban forestry rates. 

Assessment increases for street and light maintenance would cost the owner of a 20,000-square-foot commercial property about $213 a year more than with the existing rates.

Also on the table at tonight’s public hearing is a proposal to eliminate the discounted rates that 150 commercial solid waste customers get for multiple garbage pickups each week. If this is approved, customers would face significantly higher costs for second and third trash pickups.

A NEW BIKE and walking trail on the east side of U.S. 93 from Flathead Valley Community College to Wyoming Street is being split into three phases because of money shortfalls. 

The city council tonight considers awarding an $82,964 contract to LHC for phase one. It would run a short distance from North Meridian Road to Sunnyview Lane. 

If approved, the project will be built this summer.

Grant money is paying for most of the project. Kalispell must pitch in $17,504 in local matching funds, $11,819 of which will be covered with other grant money. The rest will be pulled from the city’s trail and parks-in-lieu funds.

Kalispell can apply for more grant money this year to try to finish the bike path, Parks and Recreation Director Mike Baker said.

The Community Transportation Enhancement Program used to pay for phase one is ending. That program allocated money to communities each year based on their population. It is being replaced by a Transportation Alternatives Program that requires communities to compete for the money.

IN OTHER BUSINESS, the City Council considers a utilities relocation agreement for the Three Mile Drive phase of the Kalispell bypass.

The Montana Department of Transportation plans to rebuild Three Mile Drive with a bridge to accommodate future stretches of the bypass through that area. Building the bridge before the bypass underneath it will help save hundreds of thousands of dollars in “throwaway costs,” state officials have said.

The project requires Kalispell’s water and sewer lines to be relocated, work that will be included in the state’s construction contract for the Three Mile Drive project.

Under a proposed agreement, Kalispell pays 25 percent of the utility relocation costs, 8 percent of mobilization and traffic control costs and 9.12 percent of indirect costs, for a total cost of about $67,739.

Also on tonight’s agenda is a resolution scheduling an Aug. 19 public hearing for a $2.16 million budget amendment.

The city council spent that amount of money last December — an expenditure not included in the 2012-13 budget — to purchase a permanent easement for the Kidsports youth athletic complex on Section 36 school trust land. 

The budget must be amended to reflect the purchase. The easement was paid for with money from the city’s Airport Tax Increment Financing District.

Tonight’s meeting starts at 7 p.m. in Kalispell City Hall, 201 First Ave. E.

Reporter Tom Lotshaw may be reached at 758-4483 or by email at tlotshaw@dailyinterlake.com.

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