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Bozeman city commissioners considered a proposed $121 million budget Monday night, and how they might want to change it.

The commission did not vote on the budget or any amendments by deadline Monday.

Commissioners talked about ways to cut spending, save taxpayer dollars and put more money toward social services. Residents voiced concerns about a lack of money for local non-profits, for projects related to making Bozeman safer for cyclists and an increase in spending on the city’s police department.

Without amendments, the proposal would have the typical property owner of a 7,500 square foot lot pay $2,568 in taxes and assessments this year, which is an increase of $103 over last year, or about $8.60 per month. That includes an additional $135 fee for the new parks and trails district, which replaced the roughly $80 residents have been paying for parks.

The parks and trails district was approved by 61% of voters this spring. It aims to help fill a $7 million parks maintenance backlog and will allow the city to take over parks maintained by homeowners’ associations.

Jeff Mihelich, city manager, presented the proposed budget and said at the beginning of the meeting that Bozeman has yet to see any significant impact from the economic recession caused by COVID-19.

“We are in a very good financial position compared to other municipalities,” Mihelich said.

Cities and towns that rely on income and sales tax revenue have been seeing decreases in revenue. Bozeman and other Montana cities that rely on property taxes and charges for service for revenue have not experienced the same losses.

This year’s budget is a $79 million decrease from last year’s, which was abnormally high because it accounted for $40 million in construction costs for the Bozeman Public Safety Center.

Before the meeting, Commissioner Michael Wallner said that after taking the public safety center costs out of the equation, he’d like to see this year’s budget increase by only 2 to 3%.

“I’m trying to keep the budget within inflation levels, and now is not a time to raise taxes on residents,” Wallner said.

Wallner said he planned to propose a number of amendments to the budget on Monday looking to cut costs. He said the amendments would be related to cutting proposed increases in staffing and a proposal to increase the amount kept in the city’s general fund reserve. Wallner requested the reserve stay at 16.67% instead of increasing it to 17% as proposed, a change would cost the city roughly $850,000.

“I do believe the current budget needs cuts to reflect the economic recession relative to Sars-CoV-2 so we don’t have to make additional cuts next year,” Wallner said before Monday’s meeting began.

Wallner said cutting costs would not only relieve taxpayers but could also allow the city to direct more money to local nonprofits that are helping residents weather the financial impacts of COVID-19.

The proposed budget allocated $30,000 to Haven, Bozeman’s shelter for survivors of domestic violence, and $150,000 to Streamline, a free bus service operated by the Human Resource Development Council. The Help Center in Bozeman requested $51,000, but was not recommended for funding.

More than 20 people gave public comment to commissioners concerning Streamline, calling on them to increase the nonprofit’s allocation to the requested $300,000. Sunshine Ross, director of the bus service, said Monday that Streamline would have to cut back on service if it doesn’t receive full funding.

Ross asked commissioners to prioritize public transportation as an essential service, especially during an economic recession when more people are needing free transport.

“Cutting service would be detrimental to the entire community,” Ross said.

Commissioner I-Ho Pomeroy asked whether it was feasible to increase Streamline’s allocation and to include the Help Center in the budget. Mihelich said that if the commission decided to keep the general fund reserve at 16.67%, those additions would be possible.

The city also received about 20 comments asking the city to allocate more money to make Bozeman’s streets safer and more friendly for cyclists and pedestrians. A couple of commissioners asked staff Monday how they might be able to do that.

Marilee Brown with Galla10 Alliance for Pathways was one who implored the commission to consider spending $50,000 more on bike and pedestrian projects.

“Fifty thousand would really, hopefully save a life,” Brown said.

Over the last several weeks, the commission has heard from hundreds of people calling for police reform in the wake of the killing of George Floyd. Many are asking for redistribution of the city’s $10 million police budget to social services. Others have asked that the city maintain the police budget.

The conversation came up again on Monday during public comment.

One resident, Sara Blessing, said police officers are asked to do too much, and that the city should reallocate police money to hiring professionals that can provide social services.

“Our (Black, Indigenous and people of color) people have spoken and have asked you to defund the police and invest in them. I ask you to listen to them,” Blessing said

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

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