By Michael Howell
The City of Hamilton is looking at a tentative budget for the coming fiscal year that includes spending $9.8 million with projected revenues set at $8.3 million. The one and a half million dollar shortfall will be made up from cash on hand. According to City Finance Officer Craig Shepherd, the City’s current cash on hand comes to $5.9 million. This year’s budget will be the second in a row in which the mill value being requested has been reduced.
“According to statute,” said Shepherd, “we could request $1.9 million in mills, but we are asking for $1.4 million.” Last year the City asked for a total of 118.4 mills. This year the request has been lowered to 104.71 mills. Last year a mill was valued at $13,505. He said the reduction was made possible, in part, due to the lack of any major new projects on the horizon and the degree to which the projects on the calendar are being funded through grants.
Shepherd outlined some of the projects in the budget for the coming year. He said about $450,000 in street improvements were planned, including the reconstruction of Ravalli Street, placement of bulb-outs at 3rd and State Streets, and the purchase of a dump truck and sander as well as a police unit.
The City has also dedicated about $50,000 to relocating some ball fields to make room for a skate park, some improvements at River Park, and an informational structure at the cemetery. About $150,000 is being put away annually to fund the building of a new Justice Center building.
Shepherd said that the City was looking at a $1 million water project involving the installation of Well #5 and a $1.6 million sewer project involving the installation of an ultraviolet decontamination system. These projects are funded out of the Water and Sewer Funds respectively and involve the use of impact fees and grants from various federal and state agencies.
According to Shepherd, the City’s expenses are generally split about equally between personnel (including salaries, health and retirement benefits) at 32%, operational costs of 32%, and capital investments of about 35%. One third of the total expenses comes to about $3.25 million.
At its last Committee of the Whole meeting, the Council members discussed a possible Memorandum of Understanding with the Circle 13 Working Group that would involve development of a City-owned Skate Park. According to City Attorney Karen Mahar, an MOU is needed for the Circle 13 Group to get started on its fundraising efforts. The group would be given three years to raise an estimated $700,000 for the purchase of the land and the construction of the park. The plan would involve the County as well since it would have to agree to moving the Little League Baseball fields currently located at the site. The City has set aside $50,000 in next year’s budget to help pay for the relocation of the ball fields, but it will cost much more than that and the County would have to absorb much of the cost.
According to Mahar, the MOU would also have to address the possibility that another location could eventually come into play if the ball fields were not moved. The plan calls for the Circle 13 Working Group to raise funds that will be held by the Ravalli County Economic Development Agency (RCEDA) until all the funds needed were in hand. At that time the City would take on responsibility of the construction project.
Council member Al Mitchell said it was important, given some unfortunate experiences in the past, that the funding be totally secured before the City got involved.
“We need more than promises,” he said. “We need money in the bank.”
RCEDA Director Julie Foster called the draft MOU “a good working document to start with that will help fundraising get underway.”
The matter was kept in committee for further consideration.
There was some discussion about broadening the activities surrounding the annual July Fourth fireworks celebration by including a Master of Ceremonies with a loudspeaker system, perhaps some music, like the National Anthem, a show of colors, and perhaps encouraging and inviting vendors.