Let’s Talk Public Funding Facts, Great Falls

On January 16 at the Great Falls City Commission meeting I proposed an initiative to meet a process deadline which would have then given the City Commission, the library board, and the public three months time (90 days) to review and have a discussion about a 30-year-old agreement between the City and the Great Falls Public Library Board of Trustees. The agreement would have been discussed and reviewed in that three month period and could have been renewed as is, renewed with amendments, or terminated.

Some say the initiative was proposed too suddenly, that there wasn’t enough time given for the commission to vote on opening a 3-month window of opportunity to review the agreement. It seems to me the urgency of considering City budgets in light of the public safety funding for police, fire and courts was important enough to move quickly and open discussion on the library funding agreement.

There was an immediate deadline looming to open that discussion by Commission vote with no final decisions needed until the three month period of review concluded.

The 7 mills of funding in the agreement (current value of which is about $900,000) was not intended to provide taxpayer dollars for the library exclusively in perpetuity without any possibility for review or discussion.

The agreement is up for renewal each and every year and the funding is discretionary, as the library board, City finance personnel, and the city commission have all clearly understood every year during budget time.

My initiative was a request to publicly review that agreement before the FY25 budget is passed and before the automatic renewal of the agreement.

There is an argument that citizens were fully aware of the 7 mill funding agreement and its dollar amount and therefore this agreement should not be reviewed because it is ‘written in stone’ as only for library use, even though it has an annual renewal date and was never voted upon by the citizens of this community.

It follows that if citizens were fully aware and educated about the 7 mill funding agreement, then they also would be fully aware of its annual renewal and would therefore not have assumed it is 7 mills only for library expansion for ever and ever, amen.

The library currently receives 24 mills of City funding (15 more than they received prior to the levy vote in June of last year) 17 mills of which are voted mills, and 7 mills (those in the agreement) having never been voted on by Great Falls voters – they are general fund mills that can and should be used for ANY City priorities and which are not limited to library expansion projects.

Priorities can and do change, especially over a 30 year period.

I have been a regular GFPL patron, library card holder, frequent service user, and supporter of our library and its historical role in our community for many, many years. I value the role of our library and its staff and board.

My concerns are about funding priorities without regard to political or ideological considerations. Period.

I was reelected to the Great Falls City Commission a little over two months ago based on a clear, unambiguous, and repeated platform of public safety and public infrastructure being the top priorities for Great Falls. I will continue to hold those as my top priorities when considering budget issues going forward.

At the very least we should have a full, open and honest public discussion about this issue – and the sooner the better.

Rick Tryon
Rick Tryonhttp://www.ricktryon.com
Rick Tryon is an entrepreneur, a singer-songwriter, and is currently serving a four year term as a Great Falls City Commissioner. Helping Montana become an even greater place to live, play and work is Tryon's passion.

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