My introduction to local government in Billings started with the Chamber of Commerce Local Government Committee in the late 1980s to the early 1990s. Two annual events stick in my mind, the budget presentation from city staff and the annual city update from the mayor and city administrator. Those were challenging years in Billings as the region was dealing with economic challenges brought on by the boom and bust cycle of the oil industry. That experience provided an excellent introduction to the challenges of balancing the demand for services with the reality of available funding. It also led to increased involvement in Billings city government, including two terms on the Billings City Council from 1995-2003 and several stints on the City Zoning Commission, where I currently serve. There have been a lot of changes in Billings through the years and I have been privileged to participate in that process. It is exciting to see the resurgence of the downtown and the growth in both residential and business building. However, that growth also presents challenges. Billings is transitioning from a large town to a small city. That transition presents challenges in a variety of areas; transportation infrastructure, public safety services, sanitation, sewer and water and parks amenities will all be strained. Meeting those challenges will be complicated by the pull back of funding from the federal and state governments. That leads to my top three objectives for the City Council.

1. Managing the challenges of growth in cooperation with Yellowstone County commissioners and, when appropriate, the city of Laurel. As Billings continues to expand its urban boundary, the impacts are felt throughout the area and the governments involved need to work together.

2. It is a simple fact that addressing increased demands for services requires funding. However, the calls for increased services are matched by the demand for lower taxes. That tension requires diligent efforts on the part of city officials to both manage the budget and communicate with the community about budget priorities. The city of Billings relies to a high degree on property taxes for revenue. Efforts to diversify the revenue mix have not been very successful. The city administration needs to continue to present options to voters for funding sources, while working to ensure the community that good stewardship of those resources is a guiding principle.

3. That brings me to the final challenge, leadership. Billings is in the process of hiring a new city administrator. Under the city charter, this position is a critical bridge between the City Council and the city staff. The hiring process is underway and that is obviously very important, equally important will be the on-boarding process once that person is hired. In addition, we will be electing a new mayor and several new City Council members. Clearly, the leadership structure of city government is entering transition period. I believe my decades of experience could be an asset through that transition.

Michael Larson is a Ward 3 candidate for Billings City Council. Ballots will be mailed Friday for the Sept. 12 Primary Election.

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