BILLINGS — The city of Billings is grappling with inflation and taxpayers will have to shoulder some of the burden to keep the community safe and clean.
The city's new fiscal year started on July 1, and this year's budget included a more robust allotment for gas and operating costs, which is one of the areas hit hardest in 2022 by inflation.
For homeowners, that means an increase of 6% to assessments and taxes and an increase of monthly utility costs for water, wastewater and solid waste (garbage) collection.
For an average home in Billings, the anticipated increase in property taxes is $119.07 per year, $104.70 of which is a result of the Public Safety Mill Levy approved by voters in 2021. The other $15 is an increase in assessment districts for Storm Sewer, Street Maintenance, and Park Maintenance.
The increase estimated increase in utilities is $2.14 a month.
Andy Zoller, Billings director of finance, says it's a way for the city to keep up with inflation and that other measures to offset costs include diverting capital improvement projects.
“You want to move forward in some direction because these costs are moving up substantially and we can’t keep operating at the same amount as last year," Zoller said.
Zoller says the big hit absorbed by the city came with the sharp increase in gas prices.
The city has more than 800 fleet vehicles, including fire trucks, police cars and garbage trucks.
“We use about 860,000 gallons of fuel a year, so it’s a very sizeable portion of our budget," Zoller said.
Zoller says even a dollar-per-gallon increase accounts for nearly a million dollar increase to spending costs.
“That’s a big concern. We only have so much money. When fuel prices go up so much, it requires deductions elsewhere," Zoller said.
Along with rising fuel costs, the city is seeing an impact to capital projects and other upgrades, as construction costs have increased. Zoller said the city is left turning down bids, sourcing work internally, and delaying project work.
The tax increases were news to people in Billings Tuesday, but the impacts of inflation are not.
“I guess the duties of all our city workers are imperative, so sometimes I feel like there’s no choice, that it’s kind of pushed upon people. Everybody’s going to try to make money the way they can or the way that’s beneficial, or the way that they feel best for our community," Daniel Morgan, a Billings resident, said.
“We’re definitely more conscious with the way we purchase things now. I think inflation is going to continue to creep in. That’s the short answer. Personally, I feel like it’s going to get worse, so we’ll see," said Steven Ginn, who was out with his family in Billings on Tuesday.
Other municipalities around Montana are having the same discussions.
Last Tuesday, Great Falls commissioners discussed raising property taxes to account for inflation.
As gas prices ease, Zoller is optimistic the city can get back on track.