Chris Mehl, headshot

Current city commissioner Chris Mehl is running against Brian LaMeres for mayor in the upcoming Nov. 7, 2017 election.

The Bozeman City Commission recently unanimously approved the city’s budget for the fiscal year that started July 1.

The budget reflects the values of our community and is guided by Bozeman’s strategic plan that focuses on housing, infrastructure, public safety and protecting our high quality of life.

What resident’s pay

During the year just ended, a typical Bozeman household paid roughly $2,252 to the city. This includes all fees and taxes for all services such as streets, police, water, sewer, library, parks and everything else.

Under the approved budget, that same typical household will pay about $2,380 during the coming year for all services. Of this amount, $52 reflects the cost of bonding for the public safety center that voters approved last November. Thanks again to taxpayers for supporting this new police, fire, courts and victim assistance building on Oak and Rouse streets. It will help Bozeman remain the safest large city in Montana.

A couple of things about city revenue. Of the $2,380, about half (or $1,187) is from water and sewer bills. Another third of costs to a typical household come from city property taxes (or $820), and the rest are mostly transportation fees and a smaller amount for stormwater work.

Many residents and businesses contacted me after receiving their recent property reappraisal. As noted above, property taxes are about one-third of what a typical household pays to the city, and Bozeman bases its budget on funding needed to run a department (say police or fire), not changes in property valuations.

Overall, a recent study of similar western cities showed that Bozeman’s revenue collected per capita is about average—in line with other Montana cities like Kalispell, Helena and Missoula; and significantly less than cities like Fort Collins or Flagstaff.

City priorities

Spending this year followed priorities outlined in the strategic plan, such as the new public safety center. Another priority increased annual funding for housing programs by $230,000. This year, Bozeman will have roughly $1.6 million for a wide mix of housing-related programs, including work with partners such as HRDC’s down payment assistance and HAVEN emergency housing.

The city also increased road maintenance and other transportation-related projects, including a 50-50 matching grant for Streamline to update its bus routes in our growing community.

Government size

In many ways, Bozeman’s budget is two different stories. Roads, buildings and pipes are a huge part of what the city does, and construction inflation is averaging about 6% in Gallatin Valley. At the same time, to hold down the budget, city employees are doing more, and the ratio of city employees per 1,000 residents has dropped or flatlined in each of the last five years.

What’s next?

Bozeman will continue to work on its strategic plan. From a fiscal perspective, Bozeman will keep working with other cities across the state to urge the state Legislature to allow communities like ours to vote on whether to tax tourists to reduce net taxes on Montanans.

City priorities for the coming year include housing, examining a proposed parks and trails district to bring our parks and trails back to national standards, holding a series of public meetings on an updated community plan (governing land use/planning regulations), and starting the process to consider annexing areas surrounded by the city for public safety and fairness.

Bozeman is a great community, and I appreciate the opportunity to serve. City commissioners want to hear from residents: email commissioners at agenda@bozeman.net, come to a meeting, or call.

Chris Mehl is the deputy mayor of Bozeman.