Former mayor shares concerns at budget hearing

No one offered oral testimony at the Aug. 16 public hearing on the City of Dillon’s preliminary budget for 2017–18.
Except George Warner.

But the former Dillon mayor gave those in attendance plenty to think about as the city budget heads down the stretch toward enactment.

“I have five issues to bring before you today,” said Warner advising the council members to consider: restarting a summer city parks program for children; reviewing the city’s disaster and emergency plans and services; adjusting how the city is paying for the 2012 reconstruction of several blocks of East Glendale Street; getting acquainted with alleged misuses of the state’s gas tax fund; and continuing to publicize percentages of time worked on each aspect of their job with the salaries for each city employee.

“I have a recommendation that the city fund and administer the city parks program, similar to how we had the operation run when I was mayor some 15 years ago,” said Warner, who served as Dillon’s mayor prior to current Mayor Mike Klakken and Klakken’s predecessor, Marty Malesich.

“I believe there is a void. I am awfully conservative myself on social issues and political issues. But I have found the sense of community is being diminished,” continued Warner.

“We got a lot of bang for our buck,” said Warner of the city parks program that offered local children activities for six weeks every summer, at a cost he recalled of between $17,000 and $21,000 per year.

“I would ask that you research that throughout the year and include that in your next budget if possible. I think it was a very good program and is worthy of reconsideration,” concluded Warner before moving on to another issue he wanted to raise before the council members.

“My second issue today has to do with my concerns on our disaster services and emergency services,” said Warner.

“My concern today is we have probably as much of a nuclear threat as we have had during the Cold War. Whether it’s real now or it’s going to be real in future—it’s out there. Those plans need to be dusted off if they haven’t been,” advised the former mayor.

“Why am I concerned? The grid is one of those things that very few people have talked about, but it’s a real and concerning,” said Warner.

“Whether it’s nuclear or computer hacking or whatever. The death predictions from one of those events—and I believe it to be true because I see a lack of a plan—they predict 90% casualties throughout the country if the grid goes down. They predict that it will be a two-year event if the grid went down,” said Warner, referring to people who have prepared studies on the matter for the federal government.

Warner said such an event would also stick local residents with numerous challenges, including a limited suppy of fuel and a backup of sewage.

“You better dig the trench to the river and get rid of that stuff. If not, it’s gonna be in your houses. It’s gotta go downhill and if it doesn’t get out, you’re gonna have sicknesses. Remember, we won’t have much of a hospital. There’s no power, no lights,” said the longtime Dillon resident.

“The other thing I’m concerned about is water. I’ve spoken about this at the Water & Sewer Committee in the past and my concern about the facility on the hill. I believe it needs to reclaimed. And it needs to be sitting there as a 300,000-gallon source for gravity-only water,” commented Warner on a city water tank no longer in use.

“It’s not a budget-breaker to fix that again, and when you compare it to the cost of the community, if it were to be needed, it’s immeasurable,” concluded Warner before moving on to other matters concerning him.

“My third item today, I would like to commend the Mayor on placing the salaries from the utility fees that could be verified by the percentage of work that each city official would do towards that account. That’s been necessary for a lot of years,” said Warner of a document Klakken circulated to council members during recent budget discussions on how much money from different city funds was going toward the salary of specific city employees, and how much time those employees were to spend doing the work those funds were set up to bankroll.

Warner then reviewed a topic he has discussed at length in previous years before the council—the use of street maintenance funds to finance the reconstruction of several blocks of Glendale Street in 2012.

“I know that it is a tough problem to deal with because there is no easy way out of it. But I also know that you are about to utilize maintenance money in a way that’s not authorized by law,” contended Warner of the city’s perennial use of $189,000 of its street maintenance funds to make the annual payment on the bond for the more-than-million-dollar Glendale Street renovation project initiated and completed during the administration of former Mayor Marty Malesich.

“My suggestion is the city council passes a resolution for a proper investigation of the matter. It’s never been investigated,” asserted Warner.

“If this council did that, you’ve separated yourselves from your predecessors. You’ve made an attempt to fix what you know isn’t right or what you’ve been told wasn’t right,” said Warner, referring to his past contentions to the council that the city’s use of its street maintenance funds to finance the Glendale Street project violated state law.

Warner wrapped up his presentation with a review of what he sees as an unfair arrangement between the State of Montana and Indian tribes on the distribution of gas tax funds.

“You’re Gas Tax money is being raided,” contended Warner.

“I don’t expect some of my suggestions are going to make it through your process this year,” Warner conceded near the start of the hearing.

“But I’d like you to consider it for future action, if you find it in your favor.”