Monday, May 25, 2020
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City staffing a main topic in city budget shaped by pandemic

by Bret Anne Serbin
Daily Inter Lake | May 22, 2020 1:00 AM

The Kalispell City Council held a work session to discuss the proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2021 on the evenings of May 18 and 19. The work session followed a short city council meeting Monday evening, and there were no action items on the meeting agenda.

The council discussed numerous proposals in the preliminary $82.5 million budget, which would increase the city’s budget by about $2.5 million from the previous year’s amount. City Manager Doug Russell explained the proposed budget is intended to keep most expenditures and revenue amounts near their current levels, since there is considerable ambiguity about future financial conditions with COVID-19.

The $82.5 million budget includes provisions for four new city employees, a new storage facility for the Kalispell Police Department and property insurance rate increases. They also anticipate fewer funds coming in this year from commercial development, although residential development — which tends to bring in less revenue than commercial projects — is expected to stay strong this year.

The City Council and various city staff members analyzed the major components of the budget, including the Public Works Department budget that is expected to increase by almost $8 million from last year.

Public Works Director Susie Turner explained the department expects to see expenditures from projects like installing LED lights, which will ultimately be more efficient for the city, and moving a streetlight in the middle of a sidewalk in order to be ADA-compliant.

The Public Works Department is also looking to hire a new full-time engineer to provide design work on various projects, which Turner said would save the city substantial money by eliminating the need to hire outside contractors. She said the city’s ability to do in-house work on the Four Mile Transmission Main project likely saved the city about $800,000.

The Kalispell Police Department is also looking to fill a new position this year, although City Manager Doug Russell explained there is some uncertainty about the police department’s personnel due to school closures’ impacts on school resource officer’s contracts. School resource officers are currently handling duties outside the school setting since area schools have closed for the year.

The KPD budget also includes plans to purchase four body cameras for SROs and non-toxic ammunition for officer training.

In the hopes of adding another new staff member, Councilor Tim Kluesner asked about hiring a compliance officer in the Planning and Building department to enforce issues like junk vehicles on city property. However, Russell explained there would need to be legal changes to give a potential compliance officer the ability to enforce these regulations.

The conversation also addressed staffing concerns with seasonal workers at the Woodland Park pool, since many of the college students who usually comprise a lot of the staff are not available or able to work a normal season due to the pandemic. Russell said it’s possible the pool could have a shorter season this summer, or it might not reopen at all.

The Parks and Recreation budget attempted to account for revenue challenges like the pool closure and some camps being canceled. The Parks Department also budgeted in a leak at the pool that needs to be identified and fixed, various upgrades at Lyon’s Park and new summer recreation programs like a skate camp and a finance camp.

The final department discussed during the work session was the city’s Information Technology department. The IT department hopes to bring on a second IT specialist this upcoming year and install private internet fibers to connect city buildings.

The council will continue to consider the proposed budget until they receive final state property valuations in August.

Members of the public are invited to comment on the proposals via email at publiccomment@kalispell.com.

Reporter Bret Anne Serbin may be reached at (406)-758-4459 or bserbin@dailyinterlake.com.