The Billings City Council’s decision Monday not to approve 3-percent increases in water and wastewater rates will mean more than $3.6 million in capital projects planned over the next two years might have to wait, public works officials told the council during a Tuesday budget session.
Those cuts will be more modest, Public Works Director Dave Mumford said, if the council approves proposed increases in system development charges.
As part of his department’s overall budget presentation during a work session Tuesday, Mumford said public works officials have not yet determined which upcoming capital improvement projects — projects the council has already approved — must be put on hold.
He said that the department's next request for water and wastewater increases could be as high as 8 percent “if we want to be made whole.”
“This (rate increase denial) will have us lagging from what we were anticipating,” he said.
Some council members said they want to overturn a policy set by a previous council that some city departments — the ones paid out of the city’s general fund — are not charged for water as well as sewer and garbage service.
City Administrator Tina Volek said she will provide estimates on how much it would cost those departments to resume paying for water and other bills.
“We should no longer offer that subsidy,” said Councilman Larry Brewster. “It is a deceptive tax on ratepayers.”
Public works officials propose a number of other increases during the coming fiscal year, which begins July 1: 3.6 percent in storm assessments, 3.5 percent in arterial assessments and 5 percent overall on the city’s two special maintenance districts.
It also proposes spending $445,000 annually to hire contractors to plow residential streets.
All told, fee increases and the removal of snow from residential streets will cost the owner of a 10,000 square foot residence an additional $13.46 annually.
Mumford said that in partnership with Yellowstone County Disaster and Emergency Services, the city plans to spend $20,000 annually to purchase a system that will send a text message to every cell phone in the county warning Billings residents that residential streets will soon be plowed and that vehicles should be parked elsewhere.
That same alert system, he said, would also call people's attention to, for example, Zimmerman Trail being closed by a rock slide.
Other budget presentations Tuesday came from the Downtown Business Improvement District, the Downtown Urban Renewal District, the East Billings Urban Renewal District, and the Tourism Business Improvement District.
During the council's next work session May 30, city staff will discuss a number of issues that could affect future budgets, including the Inner Belt Loop, MET Transit, parks, public safety and the city’s facilities master plan.
“We are preparing those presentations now,” Volek said.
The council could begin budget deliberations as soon as its next business session on June 12.