The Bellevue City Council passed a tentative $3,493,467 budget for fiscal year 2021 on Wednesday. The new budget would decrease expenditures by $521,585 compared to last year—including some cuts that could challenge department heads to meet their work expectations for the next year.

City Council Chair Kathryn Goldman said the budget should reflect the uncertainty roiling the city’s finances as it faces continued impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Things don’t look bright to say the least,” Goldman said.

The council also discussed the likelihood of implementing a salary freeze for city staff in light of expected funding shortfalls.

“This is not meant to be punitive,” said City Councilman Greg Cappel. “We couldn’t be more proud of how our city staff works together as a team.”

The proposed general fund budget, which covers the majority of city services, would drop by $38,596 to $1,545,862. It includes an 11.2 percent cut to the administration budget, a 5.3 percent cut to community development, a 4 percent cut from the parks department and a 5.4 percent cut from the streets department.

The proposed budget would increase the Bellevue Fire Department budget by 5.2 percent, the library budget by 3.3 percent, the marshal’s office budget by 1.7 percent, and the building and grounds budget by 14.5 percent, which would include an additional $6,000 for building cleaning expenses.

Community Development Director Diane Shay said she projected an increase in revenue from building permits of $5,000 in expectation of five to 10 new homes being built at the new Strahorn subdivision.

“We know that the homes in Strahorn are not going to be high-end,” said City Councilman Greg Cappel. “I am concerned that we are being too optimistic.”

The proposed budget includes a 25 percent decrease in the water fund and an 18.2 percent drop in the sewer fund. City Treasurer and Clerk Marian Edwards said recently that collections for utility bills for these services have declined.

Public Works Director Frank Suwanrit took issue with cuts to the water and sewer departments, which he said could impact salaries for workers who have put in extra time in the past two years to get licensed for several staff positions.

“None of these guys have gotten much compensation for working their butts off,” Suwanrit said.

As a result, Suwanrit said it will be a challenge to retain some licensed workers in Bellevue, he told the Express in an interivew.

“I get that money is tight, but that was the excuse last year when they cut all raises down to three percent,” Suwanrit said. “Once an employee becomes licensed, they become more valuable to the city. It costs us more to train a new person than it does to give them a raise.”

City Councilwoman Tammy Davis asked Suwanrit why the city’s water-metering system, a potential generator of revenue schedule for completion this year, was not yet complete.

Suwanrit attributed the delay to problems with a plumbing contractor and worker injuries.

“One contractor kind of bailed on us,” Suwanrit said.

The council will hold a public hearing on Aug. 13 to take public comment on the proposed budget, which is scheduled to be finalized in late September.

Email the writer: tevans@mtexpress.com

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