City deserves praise for reducing spending

The headline on the front page of Wednesday’s edition of this newspaper, “City holds spending down for upcoming budget year,” may have caught you by surprise.

So often we hear about our nation’s leaders at the local, state and federal levels raising taxes to offset ever-increasing costs to maintain crumbling infrastructure, pay employees and keep the lights on.

It’s refreshing to know that the Livingston City Commission and the city’s chief financial officer, Jessie Hogg, took a surgical approach while crunching the numbers for this year’s budget, going line item by line item and trimming fat, while also allowing for an uptick in pay raises, although minimal, in many departments within city government.

The annual budget was cut using across-the-board decreases in the operating budgets of various departments, $250 to $500 at a time, ultimately resulting in a 2.36 percent decrease in projected expenditures for the upcoming fiscal year.

Anyone who works, or has worked, in the public sector knows that it’s not uncommon for government departments to request budgets that mirror or increase from the previous year, even if spending for things like pens and paper is expected to decrease. Some government workers believe that if their budget is decreased this year for things like supplies or travel, they will face an uphill battle to get that money back in subsequent years.

The “I have it now and don’t want to lose it” mentality has no place in the private sector, nor should it be the norm in government, at least not one that operates efficiently and with a conscious effort to spend our hard-earned taxpayer dollars in a wise and prudent manner.

Thankfully, Hogg and the current City Commission have grasped the concept of trimming where possible and setting aside money for equipment and other items that benefit the community.

The tentative budget, for example, includes $35,000 for the Livingston Police Department to purchase a new vehicle and another $30,000 for the fire department to replace its Command 1 vehicle.

The budget, which is expected to receive final approval from the commission next month, further includes $5,425 to replace ballistics vests in the police department, an additional $6,000 for Stafford Animal Shelter and 2 percent pay raises for many city employees.

The city’s five elected commissioners — who each would earn $4,200 per year under the new budget, up from $3,600 the year before — are expected to adopt the budget Aug. 2.

Hogg and the five commissioners — Chairman James Bennett, Vice Chairwoman Dorel Hoglund, Mel Friedman, Sarah Sandberg and Quentin Schwarz — deserve praise for taking the time during lengthy work sessions to hammer out a budget that’s in the public’s interest.

Let’s hope they strive to make similar headlines during the next budget year.

For a copy of the city’s tentative budget, visit http://www.livingstonmontana.org/living/docs/City_Manager_s_Budget_Recom....

— Justin Post
Enterprise Managing Editor

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