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The city of Bozeman’s budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1 was recently approved. For the coming year, the public health dangers, economic turmoil and social justice questions facing our community and others across the country drove budget decisions and priorities.

Like everything else, the fiscal outlook remains in flux and Bozeman will continue a four-step approach: monitor budget projections closely, look for ways to reduce spending, increase support and partnership of individuals and the private sector, and engage the public throughout the coming year.

Holding down costs, focusing on core responsibilities

Given the pain and economic uncertainty, one of the highest priorities was to hold down costs and taxes. The commission made a number of cuts, such as reducing the general fund reserve, delaying a parking lot, and hiring fewer lifeguards, that dropped net costs by more than $1 million.

As a result, a typical Bozeman household will pay roughly $2,500 for all city services in the coming year—including water and sewer, the fire department, street work, library and everything in between.

Of this amount, about a third comes from property taxes and nearly half of all costs are from water and sewer bills with the rest mostly transportation related. Compared to other similarly sized cities in the West, Bozeman’s revenue collected per capita is about average—in line with Montana cities like Helena and Missoula; and significantly less than cities like Fort Collins or Flagstaff.

Like most cities, infrastructure and public safety make up half the budget: street-related costs are 16 percent; water 10%; and wastewater 9%—along with police at 8% and fire at 5%. By comparison, parks are 3% and the library 2%.

Partnering with the community

Given the pain and economic difficulties facing Bozeman, the final budget includes support for important social services like the Help Center which provides invaluable crisis counseling for the community, ongoing assistance for HAVEN’s work to support domestic violence victims, and continued support for affordable housing efforts.

The budget also looks to promote alternative transportation with increased support for Streamline, more funding for bike paths and updating the city’s complete streets policies. Equally important, the budget increases staffing for the planning department with the goal of reviewing projects in a more timely and predictable manner.

Bozeman as an inclusive community

The city commission has tasked the city manager to review Bozeman’s practices to make sure they uphold the important goal of being an inclusive community. The review will cover a variety of topics such as training for police and all city employees, de-escalation policies, hiring practices, and accountability—and compare them to national best practices.

The commission and citizens will hear from the city manager at a public meeting on July 27, take public comments and decide additional action at that time. The budget includes funding for these and other future steps.

Today, Bozeman remains the safest large city in Montana while also having fewer police officers per capita than other cities in the state.

We have an obligation to our citizens and our law enforcement officers to continually provide proven tools, training and policies to reinforce and to advance the positive, collaborative partnership between the Bozeman Police Department and the citizens they protect and serve.

Let us embrace this opportunity for our community to listen to one another, to renew our commitment to inclusivity and to act and participate in our community so that Bozeman remains a place worthy of all people.

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 mayor of Bozeman.

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