City Property Tax Increase By $2.63 Per Month For $300,000 Home

Last week the Great Falls City Commission voted 4-0 (Mayor Kelly was not present) to accept the City Manager’s FY24 budget which includes adopting the proposed total allowable property tax increase of 4.38%.

The approved proposal includes the 1.92% permissive medical levy and the 2.46% inflationary factor increases.

Those increases would equate to the following for Great Falls homeowners:

  • $100,00 home – $10.51 annually or 88 cents per month.
  • $200,00 home – $21.02 annually or $1.25 per month.
  • $300,00 home – $31.53 annually or $2.63 per month.

The numbers could vary slightly either up or down depending on the final total property valuation for Great Falls released in August by the Montana Department of Revenue.

The additional revenue is general fund revenue to pay for the increasing cost, due mostly to inflation, of providing public safety – police, fire etc. – and for the 8% increase in city employee health insurance premiums.

Over 70% of the City workforce is under public employee union collective bargaining agreements.

Latte Factor?

I have never and will never use the ‘it’s only a latte a week’ line to justify a tax increase of any kind. It’s not up to me or anyone else to determine how much is ‘too much’ or ‘not that much’ for you.

I pay the exact same local taxes as everyone else in my hometown of Great Falls and I rely on the exact same city services as everyone else here, so I ‘get it’ when it comes to the seemingly endless ‘little lattes’ that add up over time from every single direction.

But I also want to live in a safe, clean, modern community with an appropriate level of public services – and that’s not free.

The times they are a changin’ in Montana and we can no longer rely solely on property taxes to pay for every school district, county, and city service being provided to citizens.

The solution, in my opinion, is state tax reform and I urge every Great Falls citizen to contact their state legislator and Governor Gianforte and ask them to make tax reform THE top priority for Montana starting now.

Who Likes Paying Taxes? Raise Your Hand.

No one likes paying taxes. I certainly don’t.

I don’t like handing over my hard earned money to pay for billions in foreign aid to countries that hate us and billions and billions for wars in which we have no business.

I especially don’t like handing over my hard earned money to pay debt service for trillions and trillions in national debt that we will never pay off and to which our kids and grandkids will continue to be enslaved.

I hate paying for the pensions and salaries of career politicians and I hate paying for the trough that lobbyists and lawyers and accountants slurp at in Babylon D.C. and I hate paying for the millions and millions of illegal immigrants flooding across our border while our own people suffer. I could go on and on and on.

But I will take my responsibility seriously to pay for the Great Falls streets I drive on every day, the fresh water in my faucet every day, the neighborhoods free of raw sewage and storm water flowing through the streets.

For the first responders who put their lives on the line in Great Falls every day. For our local courts and corrections people.

For all the stuff that I can see and touch – and actually use and enjoy every day. Services performed for us by people you and I know personally and see every day at the grocery store or local pub.

The local social contract we all enter into to pay for modern, adequate local services and the necessities of life isn’t something we should take lightly or neglect.

Let’s not confuse the taxes we pay for federal studies on the mating habits of snails with the taxes we pay for a safe, clean, modern city.

Let’s try to keep a perspective and understand the clear difference between the taxes we pay that seem to disappear down the black hole of the gargantuan federal government with no accountability and the taxes we pay for our local services where we can expect to see immediate and direct results and accountability.

One last thing – we need to demand that our state legislature and governor take action on state tax reform.

The only option for much needed city, county, and school district funding is property taxes via voter approved levies. That has to change. We need to spread the burden out more evenly somehow and stop depending on property owned by local businesses and homeowners for everything.

GFPD Issued Press Release Last Week And Statement Last Night On Gun Store Raid

There have been a number of questions from the community about the IRS/ATF raid on a Great Falls gun store.

In response, here is some further information concerning the involvement of the Great Falls Police Department in that event.

First here is a a screenshot of the email that city commissioners received from GFPD Captain John Schaffer this morning showing the press press release concerning the incident sent out to local media on Thursday June 15 at 3:00 PM, the day after the raid. There has been no attempt to ‘cover up’, or ‘play mum’, or stall by GFPD.

Second, below is the transcript from last nights Great Falls City Commission meeting where Captain Schaffer laid out the basic facts. I then asked a few follow-up questions. You can view the statement and exchange here starting at 1:01:40 of the video.

Captain Schaffer: I just wanted to provide a little bit of background on what took place last week involving Highwood Creek Outfitters and the Great Falls Police Department’s involvement there.

We were notified last Friday by the Internal Revenue Service that they were requesting a standby to provide scene security on a search warrant that they were going to execute, and that’s search warrant was going to be done on last Wednesday. We were not told of the location, we were not told of the contents of the search warrant, we knew nothing about what the search warrant entailed, only that the IRS was asking us for standby assistance.

On the morning of the search warrant we were told where it was, we responded with 2 officers that were in uniform and in a marked squad car and we were there to provide scene security.

We were there for about a total of a half hour, and then released by the IRS.

That is about the extent of what the Great Falls Police Department knows what happened there.

Commissioner Tryon: The request for assistance for that raid, you guys get those once in a while from various other law enforcement agencies, is that correct?

Captain Schaffer: Yes, Commissioner. Whether it be at the state level the local level or the federal level we have partners at all of those.

Commissioner Tryon: I’m just asking these questions because I’m getting the questions as well, so are there state laws or other pertinent statutes that apply or that would be applicable to that situation?

Captain Schaffer: Well, not necessarily that situation, but depending on who asked us if it involves any federal firearms laws there’s Montana code annotated that we have to follow when it comes to whether not we’re gonna get involved.

Commissioner Tryon: But you didn’t know that there was a firearms store when you were…

Captain Schaffer: This was the IRS that asked us for help and we did not know the location where it was going to be.

Commissioner Tryon: And you weren’t providing ‘paddy wagon service’ for the IRS?

Captain Schaffer: No sir.

Commissioner Tryon: Thank you.

Great Falls Public Library Cancels Planned June ‘Pride Fest’ Events

Over the past week I have been contacted and asked by several Great Falls citizens whether or not the Great Falls Public Library is planning to host and sponsor events for ‘Pride Month’ this June, as they have in the past.

E-City Beat published a blog post last Thursday raising a similar question and as a result I received several more inquiries about the matter over the Memorial Day holiday weekend.

Just this afternoon I received an email in my City of Great Falls city commission mailbox from Library Director Susie McIntyre spelling out the library’s course of action on this issue.

All City emails are available to the public and in the interest of full transparency and as a response to public inquiry I am providing the text of McIntyre’s email below.

“Attached please find the Library Monthly Events list for June.

I apologize for the lateness in sending this document.  Please see the Library’s statement about PRIDE activities below my signature.

Please let me know if you have any questions.

Yours,

Susie

PRIDE 2023:

The Library was invited to participate in Pride Fest on June 24th.  We have participated in Pride events in the past.  We had planned to provide a craft activity and to promote reading and the Library through an informational table.

This year they are having a larger event and there will be Drag Queens in attendance.

Last week, Governor Gianforte signed HB 359 into law.  HB 359 specifically prohibits Drag Queen Story Hour at public libraries.  The wording of HB 359 is vague.  It is a bit difficult to understand whether or not it would be illegal for the Library to participate in PRIDE given that there will be Drag Queens and minors present.  After consulting with our community partners and the City Attorney, We have canceled the Great Falls Public Library’s participation in Pride this year.  

It also seems unclear if the posting of our Mister Sisters video on the Library YouTube channel violates HB 359.  On the advice of the City Attorney and out of an abundance of caution, the Library has set the Mister Sisters Video from Pride 2021 to private so it can longer be seen by the public (including minors).

The Library is for everyone. We are committed to providing a collection and programming that meets the rich and diverse needs of our community.  

We will monitor how HB 359 is viewed by the courts so that we can both follow all Montana laws and ensure that we continue to serve all members of our community.  
— 

“There are still stories to tell.”  HoidSusie McIntyre, Director (she/her)

Great Falls Public Library
301 2nd Avenue North
Great Falls, MT 59401
PHONE:  406-453-0349
FAX:        406-453-0181
smcintyre@greatfallslibrary.org

Great Falls Local Budget Realities

With a new fiscal year and budget for the City of Great Falls right around the corner, FY24 starts July 1, 2023, I thought it would be a good idea to present a brief refresher on local budget realities.

The Great Falls City Commission is very limited by state law when it comes to raising taxes at the local level and in my opinion this is a good thing. But it does present challenges when it comes to funding city services every year.

There are only three ways the city commission can raise local tax revenue for the general fund:

  1. The inflationary factor on property tax, which is a rate of half of the three year average rate of inflation, so it’s variable depending on the Consumer Price Index generated rate of inflation. By way of example, for FY22 the factor was 0.93 percent, or $157,843 total additional revenue.

    The city commission voted unanimously to NOT utilize the inflationary factor in both 2020 and 2021 due to COVID’s financial impact on Great Falls citizens and businesses.
  2. Permissive medical levy to fund rising health insurance costs for City employees. In 2022 it was a 1.43% local property tax increase.

    And again, the city commission voted unanimously to NOT use this tax in 2020 and 2021 due to COVID.
  3. A local option tax on recreational adult use marijuana sales countywide – 45% of the 3% tax collected by the County will be distributed by formula to the incorporated towns within Cascade County. I confirmed with City fiscal that the current estimate for Great Falls would be about $240,000 per year. This is a brand new revenue source and we have yet to see how it plays out going forward.

What About Fees and Permits

Generally speaking, the other revenue categories fall under special assessments – like Portage Meadows, boulevard districts, Park Maintenance District 1, etc., and enterprise funds that rely on fees, permits, and licenses.

For instance the Planning and Community Development Department funds itself, for the most part, through building permits, safety inspections etc.

An example of city services being paid for by fees would be your garbage collection rates or your water/sewer rates.

Not-So-Obvious Impacts of Inflation

When you go to the store and a dozen eggs costs three times more than it did a year ago you understand the direct impact of inflation.

When you turn on your water faucet or take out your trash for City pick up the impact of inflation may not be as obvious, but it’s still there because the rising cost of EVERYTHING hits EVERYONE EVERYWHERE – even the City of Great Falls and it’s services and operations.

So the City has two choices, either raise the fees for services to cover rising costs or reduce the level of City services.

Time For Citizens to Weigh In

Each and every time the Great Falls City Commission deliberates on raising fees or taxes there is a fully transparent vetting process and ample opportunity for public input.

Allow me to close with a couple of observations.

First, I’m looking forward to hearing from local taxpayers during the upcoming City budget discussions. If we need to cut services or City expenditures in order to balance our budget and still provide the level of service citizens demand then please be specific and factual with your suggestions. I’m listening.

Finally, in 2020 and 2021 I voted with my fellow commissioners against any tax raises or fee increases. I would like to be able to vote that same way every budget year so that Phyllis and I, and all of our fellow Great Fallsians, would never have to see our local taxes and fees go up while keeping the same level of City services, but unfortunately that isn’t reality and we all know it.

Great Falls Library Director Answers ‘Drag Queen Story Hour’ Video Questions

At our Great Falls City Commission regular meeting on February 28 the Commission voted unanimously to put a levy request by the Great Falls Public Library on a June 6 special election ballot for Great Falls voters to decide.

During the meeting several citizens raised the issue of a ‘Drag Queen Story Hour’ video promoted and sponsored by the GFPL.

In an article written by Jeni Dodd the video was referenced and a link provided. However no video appeared when the link was followed and it looked like the video had been deleted or was no longer available on the library’s YouTube channel.

It was subsequently discovered that the ‘Drag Queen Story Hour’ video and other videos from the GFPL Kids’ Place ‘Family Pride Week 2021’ events and promotion were set to ‘private’ and not available for the public to see.

In her initial in 2/25 email response to a question from me about the timing and purpose of the videos being unavailable for public viewing on the library’s YouTube channel Director McIntyre wrote:

“I’ve been looking into the situation. The video was not removed.  As with some other old Library videos, the 2021 Family Pride Week videos were set to private.  

We are not exactly sure when that transition was made. They are set back to public for everyone to view if they wish.”

Consequently, because the library is a public resource and all of it’s online content, events, and promotions should be fully available for public viewing and scrutiny, I asked several other questions about the private settings place on the videos in question.

Here is the text of my emailed questions (in bold italics) and GFPL Director Susie McIntyre’s response:

Tryon:Who originally authorized/requested that the Pride Week 2021 videos, including but not limited to the ‘Drag Queen Story Hour’ video, be set to ‘private’? What is the library policy for setting the viewing status of it’s YouTube video content and who has administrative privileges?

McIntyre: “The Pride Week 2021 were set to private after a miscommunication.  Please see my answer to # 3.  I take full responsibility for the videos being moved from public to private. 

The Library follows the social media policy of the City of Great Falls (attached).  All of the Library Staff who create and post Library videos have administrative privileges, including the privilege to place videos to private.  Currently the staff with those administrative privileges are Aaron Kueffler, Sara Kegel, Susie McIntyre and Rae McFadden.  We do not a formal policy for when videos should be set to private. 

As required by City Ordinance, all Library social media, website content and email communication are archived and available for retrieval if needed.”

Tryon:When were the videos set from public to private viewing?

McIntyre: “The Library Pride Week videos were set from public to private viewing on January 27, 2023.

When I first asked staff when the videos were set to private, they couldn’t tell by looking at our YouTube channel when video status was changed.   Lanni Klassner determined the exact date of the change by looking at the City’s social media archiving solution, Archive Social.” 

Tryon:Why were the videos set from public to private viewing?

McIntyre: “After investigation, I determined that the videos were set from public to private after a miscommunication between myself and a staff person.  I was invited to provide a presentation for the Great Falls Pachyderm club on January 26th, 2023.  After that presentation, I had a conversation with a staff member about my experience at the meeting.   I expressed concern about Pachyderm club member attacks on the Library regarding LGBTQ issues.   The staff member and I had a conversation about the national trends of some libraries being closed and some librarians receiving death threats over culture war fights centered on LGBTQ+ issues.  During the course of that conversation a miscommunication took place.  The staff member left the conversation understanding that in the interest of protecting staff and volunteers from threats, I had given permission to set our online Pride materials to private.  I left the conversation with the understanding that we were both concerned that a minority of people using national anti-LGBTQ rhetoric were looking to fan a culture war in Great Falls.    

I take full responsibility for the videos being moved from public to private. 

I was unaware that the videos were set to private until I received the email from Commissioner Tryon on Friday February 24th.  As soon as it was brought to my attention that the videos had been set to private, I investigated the issue and then had staff set them back to public so that everyone could view them.”

Tryon:Were there any other videos other than the Pride Week 2021 videos the set from public to private viewing or from private to public viewing? If so, which ones and why?

McIntyre: “The Great Falls Public Library YouTube Channel has 7 total videos. They are all public.

We have an unused channel labeled Dewey Falls.  We attempted to upload a drone video to YouTube and had many complications.  It was set to private and never moved to a promoted Library YouTube Channel. 

The GFPL Kids Place YouTube Chanel has 239 videos.

  • 4 videos are unlisted. These are drafts who were started and never completed.
  • 1 video is processing.  We do not understand why this video is stuck and we have been unable to get it changed.
  • 1 video is in draft.  We are working on this video.
  • 6 videos are private. 
    • Unedited-Maybe (a flawed video that isn’t appropriate for the public—sound and editing issues)
    • Make Your Own Mask for Kids and Teens (a video that is no longer relevant)
    • Census ST-1st part (a video that is no longer relevant)
    • Census ST-End (a video that is no longer relevant)
    • WYBP2133 (a video that is no longer relevant)
    • Something Happened In Our Town (a video that is no longer relevant)”

Calling On Local Legislators: Walk Your ‘Conservative’ Talk

Cascade County Republicans won every single race on the ballot in the 2022 election. It was a jaw-dropping result given that Cascade County and Great Falls were once considered to be a Blue stronghold, sending a majority of Democrats every cycle to Helena.

Those days are long gone now I suspect, for two main reasons:

  1. The Cascade County Democratic Central Committee and most of the candidates that they have put forward and supported in recent elections are so far to the extreme left side of the political spectrum that they’ve fallen completely out of touch with the local mainstream.
  2. Local Republican candidates have run their campaigns on a mostly common sense conservative set of principles that resonates more soundly with local voters.

A big part of that conservative set of principles includes a healthy mistrust of top-down governance – at all levels.

I’m calling on our Great Falls/Cascade County state legislative delegation to live by and legislate according to their proclaimed conservative values by rejecting the efforts in this legislative session to increase state control of local governing bodies.

SB 245

One example of such efforts is SB 245, a bill designed to impose a one-size-fits-all, state mandated zoning template on all Montana cities and towns.

SB 245 would require Great Falls, and all other Montana communities with populations over 7,000, to allow mixed-use and other kinds of development whether or not that development is determined by a local community or neighborhood to be a good fit for that local community or neighborhood.

The bill would also prohibit local governing bodies, like your Great Falls City Commission, from adding some development requirements in accordance with a local growth policy, like setbacks, density, and parking etc. after holding local public hearings with the local stakeholders in the neighborhoods most affected.

You can read SB 245 here.

Walk The Talk

I understand the intention of this and some of the other proposed related legislation is to address the housing crisis in our state. I get it.

But what works for Missoula may not work for Great Falls. A zoning regulation that provides solutions for Choteau might actually add problems for Butte or Havre.

The point is – one size does not fit all.

When the federal government seeks to cram regulations down our throats or usurp states rights those who claim to be liberty loving conservatives rightfully raise their voices in protest.

So to my conservative friends in the state legislature: Stay true to your conservative principles, be consistent and allow cities, towns and counties to keep their local decisions LOCAL.

Ban Gas Stoves In Great Falls?

Last week I received an email in my City Commission inbox from a city resident urging a phase-out of fossil fuels for cooking and heating from our homes and businesses right here in Great Falls.

Below is the text of the email as well as my response.

I’m leaving out the senders name here, even though the email is public information and available to anyone who requests it.

The Email

Dear  Tryon,

I’m writing to you today because I believe our community must urgently pass a building electrification policy and phase fossil fuels out of our homes and businesses.

Buildings are responsible for 13% of greenhouse gas emissions in the US, and recent study from the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health found that gas stoves are responsible for 1 in 8 cases of childhood asthma – that’s on par with secondhand smoke. Burning gas in homes also generates harmful emissions of formaldehyde, methane, nitrogen oxides, and other pollutants.

As your constituent, I’m urging you to do everything in your power to ensure new buildings in our community are all-electric and help phase gas and other fossil fuels out of existing buildings.

Thank you.

My Response

Ms./Mr. ——-

Thank you for your comments and concerns, however as a Great Falls City Commissioner I have no intention of advocating in any way shape or form for banning the use of natural gas heating/cooking in our municipal building codes.

This idea is, quite frankly, completely antithetical to the common sense mainstream thinking of the folks I know and interact with daily in this community.

In addition, such a policy if implemented would be a potential disaster economically and an extra, unnecessary financial hardship for those in the lower income brackets in our community.

Sincerely,

Commissioner Rick Tryon

Good News And Bad News, Great Falls: Building Permits Up, Crime Up

Well, Great Falls friends and neighbors, there’s some good news and there’s some bad news.

Good News First

According to a recent analysis by the City of Great Falls Planning and Community Development Department new construction and building permits are not just on an upward trend over the past year, they’re up by a lot.

Take a look at this chart:

Now, The Bad News

Unfortunately, we also have some troubling stats related to rising crime in our town.

As you can see from this slide we have some crime issues that aren’t magically going away and that we need to deal with – a 28% increase in general case investigations!

________________________________________________________________________

So let’s build on the good news and do something more than complain about the bad news, Great Falls.

Great Falls Welcomes New American Citizens

On Thursday, December 15 I had the honor and privilege to represent the City of Great Falls and the citizens of Great Falls in welcoming 21 newly minted American citizens to our country, state, and community.

The naturalization swearing-in and ceremony was held at the federal courthouse here in Great Falls with the Honorable Brian M. Morris, U.S. Chief District Court Judge for the District of Montana presiding.

I was deeply moved seeing the sincere and grateful faces of the new members of our American family as they held their hands over their hearts and recited our Pledge of Allegiance and then took the Naturalization Oath.

Here is the list of the countries from which these 21 new citizens came.

  • Canada
  • India
  • Thailand
  • Burma
  • Mexico
  • Philippines
  • Ecuador
  • Dominican Republic
  • Russia
  • Congo
  • Brazil
  • Germany
  • Columbia
  • Romania
  • United Kingdom
  • Argentina

I was reminded of the awesome privilege, and corresponding responsibilities, of American citizenship and how those of us who were born on freedom’s soil take it all for granted at times.

These beautiful men and women who worked so hard to call themselves American citizens, and respected our laws enough to do it the right way, are an inspiration.

Welcome!