Council approves $278M budget, temporary permit

2014-06-09T20:29:00Z 2014-06-10T06:49:04Z Council approves $278M budget, temporary permitBy MIKE FERGUSON mferguson@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

The Billings City Council unanimously approved a $277,674,633 budget for the 2014-15 fiscal year Monday.

Also receiving unanimous approval was a variance and a temporary permit that will allow Bill Jensen and Cathy Pike to operate a food cart off the alley behind 628 Grand Ave.

That’s the spot where Tatiana Heckles operated the S’Mor food cart for the past two summers.

Those were among the items of business completed before the city council turned its attention Monday night to the matter most people were present to hear — a proposed nondiscrimination ordinance.

The variance and temporary permit are required because the only access to the food cart is the alley behind Grand Avenue between Sixth and Seventh streets. A retaining wall constructed in 1999 off Grand Avenue precludes access off the street.

Vern Heisler, the deputy director of public works, said the city is convinced there’s adequate parking to run the business. “It’s a small trailer without a lot of employees,” he said. “It’s a business where people come and go a lot. Four (parking) spaces is reasonable for this type of activity.”

Council member Rich McFadden said he drove past the location and “I was impressed how neat, clean and professional it all looked. I don’t want to start discriminating against Norwegians,” he said with a smile, an homage to the business Heckles ran the past two summers.

During a hearing on the budget, which takes effect July 1 and runs through June 30, 2015, Connie Wardell, a former school board member who described herself as “a budget watcher,” commended the work of Finance Director Pat Weber and City Administrator Tina Volek.

She asked city council members to take into account how much staff time is being spent on council initiatives, which she said are “taking a huge amount of staff time,” time that’s “not being spent on issues critical for the whole city.”

Volek noted that attorneys often book their time in six-minute intervals. “We can look at staff time, if council desires us to do so,” she said.

The city council also approved assessments to help pay for the 2014-15 budget, including street maintenance, storm sewer, arterial construction, tourism improvement district and business improvement district. Increases are generally in the 2-3 percent range.

A tract of land, 1880 and 1916 Hawthorne Lane, north of Kyhl Lane in the Heights, was unanimously approved for annexation.

With a new middle school planned for the neighborhood, “that area is going to see a lot of growth,” council member Denis Pitman said. “With progress comes the need for housing. As the middle school grows, this is going to be a great neighborhood for families in the Heights.”

Council members also approved a resolution expanding the boundaries of Ward IV — currently represented by Al Swanson and Jani McCall — following a recent annexation south of Grand Avenue near the intersection of Grand Avenue and 56th Street West.

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