Helena officials aim to cut costs from the next city budget while maintaining the same level of services, City Manager Ana Cortez told the community leaders at the weekly Hometown Helena gathering Thursday morning.
The biannual budget is slated to come to the city commission for a final vote Monday evening.
Cortez spent most of her time talking about the general fund, which pays for government operations, the Helena fire and police departments, community development, public works, parks and recreation, and administrative services. The general fund revenue comes from assessments, taxes, state entitlement funding and fines, and $22.4 million in expenses are projected for fiscal year 2020.
More than 50% of the general fund's revenue is generated by taxes and assessments levied by the city, with another 20% provided by a state entitlement payment.
In terms of expenditures, the city of Helena spends 33% of its general fund on the Helena Police Department and municipal court and another 22% on the Helena Fire Department. Cortez said the biggest expenditure from the general fund was spent on salaries.
The city is cutting some $1.4 million from the general fund over the coming budget cycle, Cortez said.
"There will still be the same level of services," Cortez said, adding that the city cut and postponed costs "where we could."
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The Helena Police Department has postponed some training, and the police and fire departments will both keep their interim chiefs in place for the next year to save money.
Joe Dooling, the Lewis and Clark County GOP chair, asked Cortez if leaving the positions vacant was intended to be a "power grab."
"It is not a power grab," Cortez said, adding that both interim chiefs would be welcome and encouraged to apply for the chief positions later on.
Cortez referred to herself as a "fiscal conservative" and said some vacant positions could be eliminated unless she sees proof that they need to be filled.
"I don't like jumping into creating a position," she added.
Cortez described the city of Helena as a corporation. She said the city commission acts as a board of directors that gives her direction and goals. She said she acts as an executive, not a policymaker.
"I am the CEO," Cortez said. "When they say jump, I say how high."