Can The City Of Great Falls Reduce Spending?

Lat week the Great Falls City Commission passed the City’s Fiscal Year 2025 budget. You can view the budget details here.

This year’s budget included a marginal tax increase for local property owners – $2.25 per month for a $300,000 home.

I’ve received several general questions about how our budget works and so I’d like to briefly address those here.

First, can the City reduce spending? The answer is, yes of course it can.

But the better question is this: Can the City reduce spending and continue to maintain the level of public safety, public services, and public amenities that citizens require and expect? That is the balance that must be struck each and every budget cycle, and I am satisfied that we accomplished that difficult balance this year.

So in light of that, I’ve been asked to define in simple terms the only two ways the City can raise taxes for the general fund.

Permissive Medical Levy

Rising health insurance costs for employees have gone up again this year and if we want to attract and retain quality City employees and professional management positions we have to compete in the job market with other municipalities and private sector employers.

The permissive medical mill levy can be used by a political subdivision, like the City of Great Falls, to pay for increased costs of group health insurance benefits for its employees. This year the budget is raising the levy 1.58%, equaling $317,544, to cover the rising cost of City employee health insurance premiums.

Inflationary Factor

Inflation is a very real problem that impacts every City department – the ever-rising cost of the supplies, materials, equipment, and parts it takes to maintain a quality modern city has been, and will continue to be, a major challenge.

Per Montana Code Annotated the City can only raise property taxes via the inflationary factor by half the average rate of inflation for the previous three years. This fiscal year the factor is 2.8%, allowing the City to raise $562,520 for general fund purposes, which includes police, fire, and courts.

Great Falls Homeless Camp Garbage Dump

On Sunday I received the following message and picture from a Great Falls resident:

“Hey Rick we went to watch 50 Watt Sun (at the Beacon) last night and under the train bridge this is what we saw! Who need to clean this mess up? I hate that this is happening in the city I grew up in.”

I contacted City Manager Greg Doyon on Monday to find out what is being done about this issue and here are the email responses outlining the course of action that is being undertaken:

Email from Mr. Doyon to me:
Commissioners: The location appears to be on Burlington Northern  property – I suspect it’s a displacement from the encampment of the 6th Street bridge...

Email from Mr. Doyon to BNSF:
I hope this email finds you well. Please be advised that I received [an email] from a City Commissioner.  I wanted to be sure you were aware that there appears to be a homeless encampment on what appears to be BNSF property in Great Falls. The City does not perform clean-up on private property, but would assist with the removal of trespassers using appropriate law enforcement personnel. If you’d like to discuss further, please feel free to give me a call.

Email from BNSF to Mr. Doyon:
Hello, Greg!  Thank you for sharing this information. I’ve notified BNSF Resource Protection. They weren’t aware of this trespass site and will look into it.

I will continue to follow up on this public safety and health/sanitation issue and report back to the public as needed.

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.

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.

Filth And Trash Filled Homeless Camp In Great Falls

Great Falls City Commissioner and mayoral candidate Joe McKenney posted a video on Facebook over the weekend showing homeless camp next to a large mound of garbage under the Sun River bridge in Great Falls.

The situation was brought to the attention of the Great Falls city commission at their May 2 work session by a local citizen and described as a health, sanitation, and safety issue for the community.

You can view McKenney’s video post here.

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.

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.


Commissioner Rick Tryon

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.


Debunking The Bunk: No, GF Taxes Aren’t Going Up 191%

This is the first in what will be a regular column on E-City Beat in which I will attempt to debunk some of the rumors, urban myths, misinformation, and flat-out bunk making the rounds in Great Falls on social media, information/news outlets, and ‘word on the street’.

We’ll start with the recent local rumor that goes something like this, “The City is going to try to raise our property taxes 191% in a safety levy!”


The fact is that the Great Falls City Commission asked our city administration to gather information from our police, fire, and municipal court departments on their staffing and infrastructure needs going forward.

The result was a set of “good, better, best” funding amounts to start the discussion for a potential public safety levy next year.

Here are the three levels of potential funding presented to the commission:

GOOD: $10M – $12M
BETTER: $22M – $25M
BEST: $33M – $36M

If the “best” amount were to be put to voters via a public safety levy the increase to local property taxes could be as high as 191%.

Also, if scientists come up with an affordable hair growth pill next year I could once again have a full, luxurious head of handsome wavy curls on my head.

That’s “if” and “could”, not “when” and “will”.

There is no proposal to raise our property taxes 191%. There are only discussion starting points and data points for consideration and public input.

If and when the voters are presented with a public safety levy to adequately fund our cops, courts, and firefighters it will only be after thorough public vetting and discussion.

The “they’re raising our taxes 191%” is a false alarm. The City is not doing that, rest assured.

Marijuana Tax Revenue For Great Falls – Commissioner Rick Tryon

On Election Day a few weeks ago Cascade County voters voted to approve a 3% local option tax on recreational adult use marijuana sales countywide.

On the same ballot, Great Falls voters approved commercial marijuana activities, weed shops etc., within Great Falls city limits.

In light of those decisions by local voters I will be pursuing an initiative to designate all of the tax revenue generated through weed sales coming to the City of Great Falls to go to funding our city’s public safety needs – police, fire department, and courts.

A couple of things to note regarding this:

  • Current zoning regulations limit commercial marijuana activities in Great Falls to areas zoned Industrial 1 and Industrial 2. Considering the people’s vote on this issue, I believe that it is appropriate to continue the zoning conversation and get as much public input from stakeholders as possible going forward.
  • Only 45% of the 3% tax collected by the County will be distributed by formula to the incorporated towns within Cascade County, of which Great Falls is the largest, so revenue expectations should be tempered. This isn’t a magic money tree.

I am working on getting some solid numbers on what we can expect given the current and projected potential revenue from weed sales and will update the public as soon as possible.