Bozeman City Hall

A look at Bozeman City Hall on Rouse Avenue.

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The Bozeman City Commission is advocating for Congress to give money to city governments across the U.S. to help with financial impacts caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

All five members of the commission signed a letter to Montana’s congressional delegation asking for support for legislation that includes $500 billion for local governments as lawmakers consider additional aid packages.

The National League of Cities started a campaign in early April to push for the additional funding. Bozeman’s Deputy Mayor Cyndy Andrus is on the board of the league and drafted the commission’s letter.

Andrus said the city will learn more about its financial losses over the next month as the budget process is underway.

“With everything that’s going on with (COVID-19), there is going to be an impact,” Andrus said.

Interim City Manager Dennis Taylor said staff are watching revenue from services like water, sewer, solid waste, recreation programs and parking tickets. He said Montana cities are lucky they don’t rely on sales tax revenue like other states, but that staff will need to watch property tax revenue as payments are made in November.

Taylor said during the 2008 recession, financial losses forced the city to furlough and layoff employees and leave some positions vacant. He said Bozeman needs aid right now, especially to continue offering services that keep businesses open and the public safe.

“I’m concerned that without some investment in our local communities we face a future where we are less safe, less healthy and less prosperous,” Taylor said.

It’s also estimated that the state’s gas tax revenue will be cut in half in 2021. That money is used to help the city pay for public works projects, like street improvements, and Taylor said the decrease will significantly hamper the city’s ability to complete those projects.

The commission’s letter notes that a person’s ability to pay for city services is related to income, and that more than 92,000 Montanans have filed for unemployment. The letter also cites an analysis by the Bureau of Business and Economic Research that predicts more than 50,000 jobs will be lost by the end of 2020.

“As a result, we anticipate losing significant revenue that cannot be recouped from our local tax base,” the letter says.

Taylor said the city hasn’t received any federal aid money, but that staff are tracking expenses that may be reimbursed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency or through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

The CARES Act passed in March. It provides $150 billion specifically for state, local and tribal governments with populations of 500,000 or greater. The Federal Reserve and The Treasury Department are doling out $500 billion in loans to cities that top one million people.

The commission’s letter says that over the last six weeks, the city has enacted “difficult and fiscally challenging emergency measures” to slow the spread of the virus, spent money to protect public health and the economy and passed emergency ordinances to limit economic fallout.

“These are costly measures and unfortunately the CARES Act does not address the necessary increases in spending, or the unavoidable shortfall in revenues, we will be facing in the coming months, possibly years,” the letter says.

U.S. Senator Jon Tester, a Democrat, said in a statement that he supports the push for funding for local and state governments.

“The COVID-19 outbreak has put enormous strain on Montana’s communities as they navigate increased expenses for personal protective equipment and emergency services in the face of lost revenue, and I strongly support ensuring our state and local governments have the proper tools to confront this crisis as the Senate considers another coronavirus relief package,” Tester said.

A spokesperson for Sen. Steve Daines, a Republican, said the senator does not support the request, saying Daines “believes it’s irresponsible to spend an additional half trillion taxpayer dollars before states have used the money the senator fought for in the original CARES Act. The senator wants to ensure the original $1.25 billion given to Montana for state and local governments in the Phase Three Coronavirus Economic Relief Package is spent responsibly and shared with local government.”

The spokesperson said Daines is working on legislation with Sen. Cory Booker, a Democrat from New Jersey, that creates a $50 billion fund for state and local governments to give money to businesses with less than 20 employees, or less than 50 in low income areas, which in turn should help local government because businesses will pay taxes and fees.

Travis Hall, a spokesperson for U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte, a Republican, reiterated in a statement that Montana has already received federal funding.

“The federal government sent Montana $1.2 billion as part of the CARES Act, and Greg wants to ensure resources make it out of Helena to local governments and that local leaders have the flexibility to use those resources to meet the needs of their community,” Hall said.

Gianforte signed a bipartisan letter earlier this month urging House leadership to make funding flexible in how it can be used and to be distributed directly to county governments in future aid packages.

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Shaylee Ragar can be reached at sragar@dailychronicle.com or at 582-2607.