BILLINGS — The Billings City Council has directed city staff to research a proposal to use a combination of cuts, shifts and a dip into reserves to cover an approximate $3.5 million budget shortfall for 2021.
The total expected shortfall in the 2021 budget is around $7 million. The Council is working to bring forward a ballot measure in the coming months amending a previously passed public safety mill levy. If the amendment is approved by voters, the levy would generate an additional $4 million for the city, helping to cover the shortfall.
On Monday, the Council worked in its discussions on the assumption that the upcoming levy amendment will pass and it will only have to make up the $3.5 million.
At the work session Monday, the council voted 6-5 to direct staff to bring back proposals to move $1 million from the general fund parks budget into Parks District 1. If the shift is approved during budget adoption and the levy passes, it would shrink the $3.5 million deficit by $1 million.
Voting yes were Mayor Bill Cole and Council members Danny Choriki, Mike Yakawich, Penny Ronning, Denise Joy and Shaun Brown. Voting no were Council members Mike Boyette, Pam Purinton, Kendra Shaw, Roy Neese and Frank Ewalt.
Council also directed staff to cut some parts of the administration budget, including delaying the hire of a public information officer and cutting the implementation of a cost-saving efficiency program called Lean Six Sigma.
The exact size of cuts was not calculated at the meeting. Mayor Bill Cole asked staff to come back with the numbers for discussion at a future meeting.
The Council proposed splitting the cuts to fill the $1.5 million hole in half. One half, about $750,000, would be made of cuts to the police, fire and parks departments. The other half would come from a dip into the city reserves.
The Council will later determine possible cuts to city departments.
No final decisions were made at the work session Monday. Direction was given to city staff to research the possible cuts further.
The Council is scheduled next Monday to hear a second reading on the public safety mill levy amendment. According to the agenda, that date is the last chance for the Council to have the money for 2021 and get it on a special mail ballot election on Sept. 15.
According to City Administrator Chris Kukulski, city governments will typically adopt a budget before the fiscal year starts on July 1. Some council members expressed at the meeting that they would like to take more time on the topic, so there's a possibility the budget adoption could take place after the fiscal year has started.