NewsLocal News


Billings City leaders exploring $3 million in cuts, possible pool closures July 1

Posted at 7:01 PM, Jun 10, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-10 21:01:13-04

BILLINGS — After requests from the Billings City Council, city staff are exploring what $3 million in budget cuts split between Parks and Recreation, the police and fire departments may look like, which could include eliminating five full-time and 109 seasonal parks and rec positions.

Billings Parks and Recreation's share of the proposed cuts is $1.5 million, or about 27 percent of the total parks budget. The other half of the cuts will be split between the police and fire departments, Billings City Administrator Chris Kukulski said a parks board virtual meeting Wednesday. The details of possible police and fire cuts were not discussed at the Wednesday meeting.

At the meeting, the parks board moved to request the City Council make other budgetary shifts to stave off the cuts. Kukulski has suggested in the past that the Council shift money out of the general fund and into Parks District 1.

During the meeting, Kukulski said $2.3 million of the Parks Department's general fund budget could be shifted over.

"How much contribution that's going to parks isn't different. It's just freeing up general fund money to fill more of the $7 million hole," Kukulski said.

The Council is about $7 million short in its proposed 2021 budget that is scheduled for adoption on July 1. The council is planning to float an amendment to a public safety mill levy that would bring in an additional $4 million in tax revenue. Last week, the council directed city staff to find $3 million in cuts.

The parks board recommendation to make the budgetary shift and stave off some or all of the cuts is scheduled to be before the City Council on Monday.

As far as proposed cuts to Parks and Recreation services, the list is long, although not necessarily permanent. Billings Parks and Recreation Director Michael Whitaker said the positions and services could be brought back if they can be funded.

To meet the $1.5 million total, the Billings Senior Center would close, and its three full-time staff members would lose their jobs. The Senior Center recorded 19,000 total visits in 2019 with 4,600 meals served.

In all, 114 full-time and part-time jobs are included in the cuts.

All aquatic recreation facilities would close under the proposal, including the Rose and South park pools, two city wading pools and five spray grounds. The Stewart Park batting cages may also close.

Whitaker said the closures would happen July 1 if the City Council were to adopt the cuts into the 2021 budget.

Many of the positions cut have to do with the upkeep of parks. The proposal eliminates 40 of the 57 parks/cemetery/forestry staff.

In Whitaker's presentation at the meeting, he said trash pick-up, mowing and weed-abatement frequency would decrease with fewer staff left to do the work.

Public park bathrooms would close, the department could no longer rent picnic shelters and it wouldn't be able to deal with graffiti and playground equipment inspection in a timely manner, Whitaker said.

Events like Saturday Live, Symphony in the Park, and Big Sky State Games may not be able to go on if the parks department doesn't have appropriate staffing, Whitaker said.