Whitefish council considers $38.7 million budget

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A public hearing on Whitefish’s proposed $38.7 million budget tops the City Council agenda tonight.

The budget is about $12.6 million less than last year’s budget, largely due to the completion of the City Hall and parking structure projects. A property tax mill-levy increase of 8.24 mills is proposed. The mill value is projected to increase to $23.743 per mill in the coming fiscal year.

The mill levy increase is in response to a reduction in resort-tax relief of 6.24 mills. Property owners last year received a one-time windfall when only one debt payment had to be made in 2016 for the Haskill Basin conservation easement, according to Finance Director Dana Smith.

The city began collecting a 3 percent resort tax in July 2015 — a 1 percent increase from 2 percent — to cover the cost of the easement. Because the city had only one bond payment in fiscal year 2016, the city rebated to property taxes an additional $319,485.

Whitefish will add the equivalent of 3.2 more employees over the coming year, boosting the workforce from 99.6 to 102.8 full-time equivalent employees. City employees, including those belonging to the three unions serving city personnel, will receive a 4.5 percent pay increase. Last year city workers got a 3.8 percent raise.

In other business, the council will hold a public hearing before voting on a resolution to adopt revisions to the city’s Depot Park master plan. Changes to the plan include eliminating a water feature, including Spokane Avenue from Railway to Depot Street for reconstruction, adding angled parking on Railway, adding a bike and pedestrian path along the north side of the O’Shaughnessy Center, including the midblock crossing on Central Avenue, and updating the gazebo to reflect the current structure.

The council will consider authorizing the design and proceeding with bids for three more blocks of Central Avenue reconstruction, including the area from East Third Street to East Sixth Street. Construction is scheduled to begin later this summer. Funding for the $1.1 million project will be split, with $425,000 coming from the city’s street fund, $500,000 from the tax-increment finance fund and $175,000 from the water fund.

An update of the city’s aquatic invasive species program will be given. A report from Parks Director Maria Butts and City Attorney Angela Jacobs notes that from May 1 through June 2, city staff performed 465 inspections at City Beach and 361 inspections at Whitefish Lake State Park. The report addresses both the successes and challenges of the new program so far.

“Staff has been instructed to prioritize motorized boat inspections over hand launch as motorized watercraft pose a higher risk,” the report notes.

The addition of more seasonal staff June 1 should enable more hand-launch watercraft inspections.

At the beginning of the council meeting, the council will make a proclamation upholding the Paris Climate Agreement. President Trump announced earlier this month the United States will withdraw from that agreement, which committed to reducing the U.S.’s carbon emissions by 26 to 28 percent from 2005 levels by 2025.

“The city of Whitefish recognizes that energy conservation and other actions to address climate change can complement economic development and offer the community opportunities for new technology, new business ventures and more,” the proclamation states.

A council work session from 5:30 to 7 p.m. will discuss and review the planned-unit development code revision. Public comment will be taken.

The regular meeting begins at 7:10 p.m. Both the work session and council meeting will be held at Whitefish City Hall.

Features editor Lynnette Hintze may be reached at 758-4421 or lhintze@dailyinterlake.com.

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