city hall

After hearing no public comment on the proposed municipal budget for fiscal year 2020, the Belgrade City Council voted Monday night to approve the document with one significant change.

Based on the suggestion of Councilman Ken Smith, the council voted to double the city’s contribution to the private, nonprofit Belgrade Senior Center from the $15,000 proposed in the preliminary budget to $30,000. In fiscal year 2019, the city provided $12,000 to the center.

Lisa Beedy, director of the Senior Center, was overjoyed when she learned of the unexpected windfall on Tuesday.

“Such a weight has been lifted off my shoulders,” Beedy said Wednesday, adding that the city’s endorsement of the value of the Senior Center’s programs “touches me personally.”

Beedy said she expects the extra funds will help allow the center to organize some trips for its members, rather than to offer social activities only at the center.

“The whole idea is being able to offer better services,” she said. “The added income will help us serve more folks better.”

Beedy said the center currently boasts 223 members. For the year ending in June, the center served 9,684 meals on site and through its Meals on Wheels program, a thousand more than it did the previous year.

“That’s pretty significant,” said Beedy, though she said that there are still many people in the community who are unaware of the services the center provides. She said the city’s additional financial contribution will allow the center to advertise its services to more individuals, perhaps through direct mail or other avenues that it previously couldn’t afford.

Other potential uses for the additional funds include enhancement of existing nutritional programs and aesthetic improvements to the facility, which it is hoped will attract a younger generation of seniors to the center, Beedy said.

Asked whether it is likely that the council will maintain the increased funding for the Senior Center in future budgets, City Manager Ted Barkley said, “I’m going to guess we’ll have continued support, but I don’t know at what level. I expect further discussion at some point.”

The council was able to allocate the extra money thanks to additional tax revenue the city will collect in 2020, Barkley said.

General Fund tax revenues will increase 6 percent, from $1,118,667 in 2019 to 

$1,183,245 in the coming year. Total expected General Fund revenues from all sources, including tax revenues, license and permit fees, and charges for services, is expected to be $2,534,679 in fiscal year 2020. The fund contained $1.638 million starting cash at the end of fiscal year 2019 on June 30.

The General Fund is the key operating account for general government services, providing support for law enforcement, parks, the municipal court, financial services, management and legal services, and other core functions of general government, according to city documents. During the last recession, reserves used to support the fund were nearly exhausted in an effort to keep tax burdens in check, while continuing to provide necessary services.

In 2015, voters approved a 37-mill levy increase to support current levels of police, fire and library services, and in May 2017, approved a 68-mill Public Safety levy to continue the expansion of law enforcement services. Unlike the General Fund – whose receipts, by statute, may increase only ½ percent the rate of inflation in a given year – the accounts funded by the special voted levies will receive about a 25 percent increase in revenues, due to construction and increased property values.

In the budget approved this week, General Fund expenditures will total $3,297,570 in fiscal year 2020. Increases are budgeted for all the fund’s line items, except for elections, over fiscal year 2019.

Total revenues projected for the library – which, as explained above, is funded by a special levy – will increase 14 percent in 2020 from $497,570 to $559,887. Library expenses are projected to increase 17 percent, from $429,780 t0 $504,880, primarily due to increases in salaries, the cost of professional services and insurance.

The Planning Department’s revenues are projected to drop by 4 percent, but expenditures will increase 59 percent. The major increases will be for salaries and benefits ($102,985 in 2020 versus $64,507 in 2019) and professional services.

Other staffing changes in the budget include hiring a school resource officer at the high school (a position to be funded largely by the school district); upgrading a police sergeant position to a police captain position; and the addition of part-time employees in the city Planning, Finance, Court and City Manager’s offices.

Though it hasn’t yet been decided to hire a dedicated city engineer and building inspector, the new budget allocates sufficient funding to bring those positions in house, rather than to contract exclusively for those services.

Rate increases implemented in fiscal year 2019 strengthened the water and sewer operating funds to ensure that future staffing and infrastructure needs will be adequate for the growing city, according to city records. A new water well was drilled in fiscal year 2019, and another likely will be drilled in 2020. Those anticipated capital improvement projects, as well as further sewer expansion, are not reflected in the budget; however, the money for the projects has been set aside, Barkley said, so the City Council will be able to amend the budget when timelines for the projects are determined.

Other personnel items allocated in the budget are hiring a full-time Human Resources manager; 3 percent cost of living raises for all city personnel (except police department and library employees, which operate under separate pay systems); and potential salary adjustments for certain department heads.