Proposed program is a win-win solution

The proposed program is a win-win solution

Commissioner Sean Logan has a bright idea: give some money back to the taxpayers, more specifically the City of Helena’s water and sewage service fee payers. His proposal will be discussed by the entire city commission over the next few weeks. I hope that the Commission will see the value of his proposal.

Here’s the brief explanation: Beginning in late 2018, the city began collecting $8.97 per month per household to fund the interest-free emergency water/sewage repair and replacement program. Since its inception, the program has helped 31 households and spent nearly $265,000. Last December, the city commission decided to eliminate the charging of fees for this program. The decision to set up the program is scheduled to expire in 2030. A future commission will decide whether the program will be continued and, if so, funded.

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The program currently has a fund balance of nearly $2.7 million.

Commissioner Logan suggests keeping enough money in the fund (about $500,000 to $700,000) so that he can continue making these loans; and returning the balance (approximately $2 million) to taxpayers in the form of a check.

Make no mistake, this is a good program that has helped real people in a meaningful way. However, it’s fair to say that demand for the program is significantly lower than expected as recently as 2018, and as a result the fund balance is now $2.7 million.

I believe Commissioner Logan is proposing a ‘win/win’ solution that will keep the program adequately funded for the next six to seven years and return most of the money to those who paid into the fund.

Given the economic impact we have all experienced over the past few years, I think the citizens of Helena would really appreciate this action by their city commission.

Uncontrolled spending in Montana’s cities and counties

When it comes to the priorities of this legislature, I firmly believe that a long-term solution to Montanans’ ever-rising property taxes should be high on the list. The root of the problem is an uncontrolled spending system in many Montana cities and counties.

About 90% of all property taxes are collected at the local level. While the mill system is controlled and a balanced budget is required, local governments can spend every dollar they receive without audit if it is no more than revenue. For many places, this means an increase of about 30% or 40% from baseline.

Although we are only in the first month of the legislature, I had the opportunity to introduce a bill that addresses wasteful spending at the local level. HB 324 is inspired by Colorado’s highly successful Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR). Montanans deserve more than just a one-time property tax break. We need a long term solution to your ever increasing property taxes and HB 324 will solve that problem. The bill will be heard in the House Local Government Committee on Thursday 9 February. This is your hard-earned money, not some bureaucrats fumbling around on unnecessary or wasteful projects.

Rep. Caleb Hinkle, HD 68,

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