The Belgrade City Council unanimously approved to ask residents for a mill levy to boost the city general fund.
“I don’t take this lightly,” Councilor John Youngberg said before he made the motion to approve the ballot question. “Maybe we made a mistake in not seeking (annual tax) increases, but I think we’re at a point where we have to do something.”
The 37 mills will generate $424,820 per year, and will sunset in seven years, according to city records. The levy would cost the average city homeowner $48.44 a year. March 30 is election day through a mail ballot.
City Manager Ted Barkley said the city has moved roughly $720,000 in available funds to shore up the general fund since 2010. And now there isn’t anything left to rely upon.
In a nutshell, the city has relied upon its reserves to bolster the general fund since the recession hit, Barkley said. Before that, the city relied on its growth to bridge the gap, city council members have said.
The general fund relies solely on property tax dollars unlike many of the city’s numerous funds, Barkley said.
“The economy is improving noticeably, but because of the structure of our property tax, their is no corresponding increase in revenue,” he wrote in memo to the council. “The effect of any increase at all is significantly delayed. Structurally, the demand for services outstrips property tax generated resources to provide them.”
Fire, police and the library are the three groups that will be affected, according to city records. Fire is contractually bound, which means the police and the library will on the hook.
Should the levy fail, the city will have to immediately cut around $200,000 from the library and police. Barkely said roughly $145,000 will have to come from the police and the remainder will be pulled from the library.
“There are government entities where it doesn’t pass their levy, it’s business as usual,” Barkley said. “I assure you, that’s not going to happen in this case.”
Both the police department and the library are working on proposals to meet the potential need. The pair will present their findings at the next council meeting on Jan. 19.
Editor’s note: As I type this, the deadline is 20 minutes from now. Please see our Friday edition for more on the general fund mill levy.