Great Falls government can’t beat the higher costs of energy and fuel, employee wages, insurance costs and equipment. So it’s planning to increase property taxes for Great Falls residents 4.63 percent beginning this fall.
With the proposed city hike, the owner of a house assessed at $100,000 would pay $15 more per year on property tax bills beginning this fall, or an extra $1.25 per month for city services.
The increase won’t become official until the public has a chance to weigh in on the subject, although citizen comments were scarce last year.
City commissioners will hold a public hearing July 3 at 7 p.m. in the commission chambers, on the second floor of the Civic Center, 2 Park Drive S.
In a presentation to city commissioners last week, City Manager John Lawton noted the city’s property tax levy is set to increase from $8.6 million to $9.4 million. He said state law allows the city an inflationary increase of 1.53 percent, and a 3.1 percent increase to pay for health insurance.
Contributing to the city’s rising costs this year, according to Lawton, were:
- a 4 percent hike in wages for city workers.
- steep increases in the costs of gasoline, diesel fuel and natural gas
- construction cost hikes. Bids on city construction projects in recent months often have been higher than estimates from engineers.
- liability insurance that was up 8 percent.
- health insurance that increased 15 percent.
Lawton noted the city’s public safety costs, including police and fire protection, alone amount to more than the city’s collection in property taxes from residents.
Fees for services and money from outside sources, including state and federal governments, make up much of the rest of the city’s budget. Beginning in July, the city also expects to bring in $1.75 million from city licenses and permits, and $1.5 million in fines and forfeitures.
Total expenditures next year are pegged at $88.75 million, down from $94.3 million, last year’s budgeted amount.
Property taxes aren’t the only things on the rise in Great Falls. Several city fees are up, too.
Water and sewer rates each rose 5 percent this year, largely to help the city pay for new water and sewer projects, and city garbage fees rose 4.5 percent a few weeks ago. Street maintenance charges rose 10 percent.
Lawton also included some agencies on a list of “opportunities and challenges” for the city.
He said the city would like to try to help the City-County Health Department, which is struggling financially, and to improve the city recycling center. The city may sell its northside property where the recycling center is located now, then find other partners to help it build a new recycling center in or near Great Falls.
Lawton said the city also wants to support economic development, market its electric utility, and boost police staffing.
Past legislative candidate Rick Tryon of Great Falls expressed concern about the tax increase.
“It seems like every year we’re paying higher and higher property taxes,” Tryon said. “We need to get some economic development going in this area.”