In the first in a series of five Billings City Council work sessions Monday, council members heard presentations from the Parks, Recreation and Public Lands and Planning divisions as they begin to determine the 2014-15 budget.
The $277.4 million budget is about 3 percent higher than the 2013-14 budget.
City Administrator Tina Volek began the evening with an overview of the city’s budget to the council.
Major changes to the 2014-15 budget are a result of the changing costs of personnel and other provisions for employees. More than $34 million in capital improvements is needed, she said. The fire department, police department and sanitation department also will get new vehicles.
Two new positions in streets and two in solid waste will be added, and a half-time position will be added in community development, she said.
She recommended that the council approve the 2015 budget and suggested the council bring a public safety levy to the voters so they can continue adding additional police and fire personnel and equipment as the city continues to expand. Billings’ population has expanded 18 percent since 2010, according to census data.
Michael Whitaker, director of Parks, Recreation and Public Lands, requested a 6.6 percent increase to the department’s budget for the fiscal 2014-15 year, bringing total expenses up to $4.6 million.
The majority of the increase will go to personnel, especially to a wage increase for seasonal employees. The increase in wages has improved the ranks of grounds crews, but he said getting enough aquatic employees will be a struggle.
Planning Division Director Candi Millar presented supplemental budget requests for the new year, including replacing a copier and printer. She also said the half-time position was to monitor more than $9 million in assets they have in their home programs.
Council member Shaun Brown expressed concern about the slim staff at code enforcement and asked Millar if the department was stressed.
In 2009, seven people were laid off from the planning department because of slumping revenues and only two have been hired back, she said.
“I have an individual on leave right now because of stress,” she said. “Right now we’re hanging in there.”
After the Planning Division finished its presentation, councilman Ken Crouch suggested adding an item to the next council meeting agenda to discuss whether the council should buy a full-page ad for the Not in Our Town national gathering being hosted in Billings on June 20.
There was brief discussion, and several members expressed support for the initiative, but it was determined that no action could be taken Monday because it was a work session. The issue was tabled until it could be discussed at a full council meeting.
The City Council will take up the next presentations on May 13, 19 and 28. The current schedule calls for a public hearing on June 9 with possible budget adoption that same evening. In addition to that opportunity for comment, the public may comment to the City Council at the end of each work session.
Members of the public interested in the presentations given to the council can visit www.ci.billings.mt.us/finance and follow the links to each department’s presentation.