Parks and Trails

Spencer and Nolan McNamara spend the afternoon slacklining in Cooper Park on Monday in Bozeman.

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Bozeman city commissioners approved a final budget Monday night after trimming roughly $1 million in spending.

A big savings came from a vote to keep the city’s general fund reserve at 16.67% instead of increasing it to 17%, as city staff proposed. That freed up about $850,000, which commissioners used, in part, to lower taxes and to funnel more money into local nonprofits.

The commissioners also approved taking $61,000 away from the police department to use instead for anti-discrimination trainings. They took $300,000 away from the parks and recreation department, reducing the new parks and trails fee. They also cut two proposed lifeguard positions for city pools.

The commissioners approved adding $100,000 to the community development department budget to account for increased demand as the city grows. They added $30,000 for the Bozeman Help Center, $150,000 to the Streamline bus service for a total of $300,000 and added $50,000 for street projects to make Bozeman’s roads safer for cyclists and pedestrians.

The typical property owner of a 7,500 square foot lot will see a roughly $64 increase in annual taxes over last year, which is down from the $103 increase that was proposed. That puts the typical property owner at $2,529 in city taxes and fees for the coming year.

The final budget passed 4-1. Commissioner I-Ho Pomeroy was the only no vote, saying she had supported further budget cuts and did not want to see any increase in taxes during a recession.

A couple of commissioners noted that they had received about 400 comments from the public regarding the budget, which is more than ever before.

Commissioner Terry Cunningham said Bozeman residents should know that their voices were heard, and that many of the changes made were based on requests from the public.

“You put your stamp on this budget,” Cunningham said.

For example, Cunningham requested the amendment to move $61,000 away from the police department, which would have gone to purchasing a new police cruiser.

That money will now be used to help the city pay for anti-discrimination trainings or other recommendations that will come out of a city review of its practices and treatment of minority populations.

The police budget will still see an increase in funding for added personnel and equipment.

In the wake of protests against racism and police violence, a national movement has called on cities to “defund the police,” or redistribute money for the police to social services. Bozeman commissioners heard from hundreds of residents concerned about police funding and practices who had a broad range of requests.

The reallocating of $61,000 was a partial answer to these requests.

Deputy Mayor Cyndy Andrus said efforts to make Bozeman a more welcoming and inclusive place need to happen long term and be a top priority. She said the added money for training is a good start.

“This is a first step in the right direction,” Andrus said.

The two other budget items that received the most public comment were the city’s allocation to local nonprofits and to street projects to make Bozeman bike friendlier. Commissioners answered both with more money. Pomeroy and Andrus requested those amendments.

The biggest change for the average taxpayer this year will be the new parks and trails fee, which 61% of voters approved in May. Staff had suggested that the fee be set at $135 for the typical property owner. Commissioner Michael Wallner requested an amendment to cut $300,000 from the parks and recreation department that would have been used for a new parking lot at Story Mill Community Park.

The amendment was unanimously approved and the parking lot will be put off for another year. That savings reduced the $135 fee to about $127. Finance Director Kristin Donald said that means the fee will need to increase by more than projected next year, or more capital improvement projects will be delayed.

Wallner also proposed cutting the lifeguard positions and putting off a new coat of paint for Story Mansion, amendments that were approved. He then proposed cutting an added engineer position, but that amendment did not pass. Wallner said he had planned to propose cutting about eight more added positions in the interest of keeping city spending down during the recession, but decided not to propose the amendments because they didn’t have the needed support.

Cunningham proposed keeping the general fund reserve at 16.67%, saying now was not the time to add more money to that pot. That amendment was supported unanimously, although Andrus said she was a bit hesitant because the city could still see financial impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic recession.

The city can amend its budget later this year if necessary.

Mayor Chris Mehl said increasing the reserve is a good idea, but not right now. He has said more than once over the past month that given the recession, the city should be cutting spending and saving taxpayers money.

“I think it would make a lot of sense in normal times. Unfortunately, these are not normal times,” Mehl said.

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

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