State of the City Address

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Mayor Collins delivered the State of the City address during the City Commission meeting on Jan. 25

Mayor Collins will delivered the following State of the City address during the regular City Commission meeting on Monday, Jan. 25. 

 

CITY OF HELENA

State of City Address

January 25, 2021

Mayor Wilmot Collins
 

Good evening, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to the annual State of the City Address.  The City Charter states:

“The mayor shall communicate to the city commission and to the general public, a statement of the affairs and management of the city, each January, and may make recommendations regarding these matters.”

Our City Charter was adopted in 1976 and it states, “Helena, Montana, is the proud seat of our state government. It is a community with a colorful past and a vibrant future. There is an openness and basic decency that beckons each of our citizens to contribute to its unique identity.”                                                                                                                                                                                                               

This beautiful city is governed by a diverse, hard-working city commission. 

I want to thank and recognize all city employees for all they’ve done to contribute to the success of this city, thank you.

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The city commission and city staff are two parts that make the city what it is.  However, we could not accomplish all we do without the various advisory boards.  I want to recognize the members of the various advisory boards; they give hundreds of hours of free time to make this City run.  We thank you.  I also want to especially recognize the members of the Helena Citizens’ Council (HCC).  This City Commission sincerely appreciates all your hard work.

In addition to the efforts of all who work within the City organization, the City values those who work tirelessly to make our Community grow.  It is time we acknowledge the fact that Helena has a thriving business community; therefore, we must support those policies and initiatives that will continue to develop a strong and diverse economy. 

It is very important that we recognize the day-to-day work of the City and not take it for granted.  We’ve continued to deliver essential services to our community of Helena: plowing the streets, fixing potholes, responding to emergency calls, patrolling the community, collecting garbage, etc.   However, I also want to recognize several accomplishments from 2020:

Of all the accomplishments of the City in 2020, adjusting to a pandemic was by far the greatest achievement. And, we had marginal interruption to service delivery. Most notable, the team completed 95% of the goals set out for the year, and much of it occurred without key leadership positions filled. The dedication of our city staff to this community is very appreciated by me, the Commission and the community.

Tonight, I would like to share with you the accomplishments achieved despite the many challenges of 2020. As well as, the ongoing projects the team is implementing to realize the Commission’s Strategic Outcomes in 2021.

 

CITY ATTORNEY

This team completed their goals in 2020!

They said they would:

  • Overhaul the animal control ordinance with a new non-criminal enforcement component
     
    • Currently, the staff is working with stakeholders including the Lewis and Clark Humane Society to bring a comprehensive rewrite of the City’s animal control regulation which the Commission passed Ordinance 3282 on July 11, 2020. This re-write included a clearer and more timely process for designation of dangerous dogs.
       
  • Implement a pretrial diversion program
     
    • The team has drafted a pretrial diversion program manual with implementation in January 2021
       
  • Implement a paperless criminal justice system.
    • Staff executed a digital workflow with Helena Police Department at the lead so prosecution services can access police reports, attachments, and videos digitally. Staff also started on the new M-Files framework for cloud storage and digital workflow of internal documents. The City Attorney’s Office is continuing to work with Helena Municipal Court to implement e-filing.

AND the team also continued to provide critical core services to City Commission, City Manager, staff, and public during pandemic and significant senior level staff vacancies.

Moving into 2021, the team will reflect on 2020 and provide the Commission with alternative implementation strategies to consider during the establishment of the work plan implementing the Commission’s Strategic Outcomes Plan and advise as to the implications of various alternatives.

 

COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT

The team has almost completed everything they shared they had as goals in 2020. Their goals were...

  • Work with Trust Montana to establish a community land trust and identify City surplus parcels to be set aside for the land trust
     
    • The team successfully obtained a CDBG Planning grant to work with Our Redeemers Church, Helena Area Habitat for Humanity, RMDC, YWCA and Trust Montana to create a land trust for developing affordable housing.
       
  • Create a Capitol Hill Mall Area Urban Renewal District
     
    • The Capital Hill Mall URD was created.
       
  • Work with new owners on the rehabilitation of the Fire tower (Serendipity Apartments)
    • Construction has started on the 630 N Last Chance Building and the rehabilitation of the Firetower Apartments
       
  • Work with Tri-County Fire, the County, and others, the division will be looking at considering the possible adoption of the WUI codes
     
    • Started discussions with the Tri-County Working Group; the Fire Department and others to develop an educational plan for the adoption of the WUI

AND the team also:

  • Adopted the 2019 Helena Growth Policy Update
  • Created the Cruse Avenue Visioning Plan
  • Established the Affordable Housing Trust Fund
  • Implemented the Fee Waiver for affordable housing by granting waiver of fees on the Red Alder project

Moving into 2021, the team will reflect on the work being done with the establishment of the County’s Blue-Ribbon committee to provide an opportunity for the City and County to work on joint standards as a potential work plan item in support of the yet-to-be set Commission Strategic Outcomes Plan.

FACILITIES

The facilities team completed all of their goals as outlined last year.  They...

  • Remodeled the first floor of the pillar section of the Law & Justice Center for Municipal Court
     
  • Replaced all windows on the east side of the main fire station
     
  • Constructed a separation wall & installed heating unit in the Wastewater Treatment Tanker Storage building
     
  • Installed heating units in Water Utilities Maintenance east shop building
     
  • Painted 75% of the Civic Center spire
     
  • Completed Cooling system installation at City-County Building

AND the team also:

  • Constructed 20+ COVID Plexiglas barriers for offices & meeting rooms
  • Installed glass barriers at Water Utility Customer Service and Information Desk service windows

Moving into 2021, in addition to implementing a work plan that support the Commission’s soon to be created Strategic Outcomes Plan, the team looks forward to completing the Civic Center spire, and reconstruction of the North City-County Building parking lot to comply with ADA regulations. 

FINANCE AND UTILITY SERVICES

Despite the Finance and Utility Services team spending most of the year without a Director, the team “held down the fort”. While they did not accomplish the establishment of departmental manuals and quarterly reporting as identified for 2020, they...

  • Delivered FY21 Budget to State of Montana by deadline.
     
  • Ensured the city received its 32nd consecutive Certificate of Achievement for Excellence Award for the FY19 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report from the Government Finance Officers Association.
     
  • Received reimbursement from the State of Montana for expenses related to COVID-19 through the federal CARES Act Funding resulting in making approximately $5 million in the General Fund available.
     
  • Developed Appropriation vs. Budget Status Dashboard Reports that were shared with City Departments most economically impacted by COVID-19 (Parks, Golf, Civic Center, Parking), fostering a better understanding of operational status.
     
  • On-boarded two key positions in Finance:  Finance Controller and Finance Director
     
  • Utility Services said they would offer E-notifications of the customer’s monthly billing info which they implemented!
     
  • The team also, created efficiencies by utilizing on-site electronic depositing of checks (“Remote Deposit Capture”) resulting in customer’s payments being presented in a timely manner.
     
  • Brought our utility billing printing and mailing back in-state to a local vendor. This reduced the time our customers received their utility bills from 15-20 days to 3-5 days. 
     
  • Recruited and hired a Utility Services Supervisor and Utility Accounting Technician position.

Moving into 2021, the team will be working in 2021 to deliver quarterly financial reports in addition to working on updating our Financial Policies in support of the City’s fiscal stability.

FIRE

In 2020, the Fire Department nearly completed all of their goals. The Department set out to...

  • Complete a Continuity of Government Operations (COOP) exercise including the City of Helena/Lewis & Clark County and DES. This did not occur.  However, the team completed a the COOP and was able to maintain city services during the current COVID-19 Pandemic.
     
  • Perform a workload analysis in the FPIB, to determine if there is a need and funding available, to expand the Bureau in support of the 2012 International WILDLAND-URBAN INTERFACE CODE (IWUIC) and other basic building inspections.
     
    • This goal was not met due reprioritization of the General Fund and removal of an additional position in the Fire Prevention Bureau being pulled and kept in the General Fund.  This goal will remain for 2021.

In 2020, the Department also:

  • Implemented, with the Tri County Fire Safe Firesafe Helena project, several activities that will make our community more fire resistant and safe in the event of a large wildland fire.  These were:
    • A total of 123 home assessments were completed and of these assessments there were 10 properties identified with wooden roofs; 9 are historic homes
    • 33 historic homes were assessed
    • 22 homeowners recommended for basic mitigation assistance (potential community volunteer projects)
    • 87 properties adjacent to either city open lands or homeowner association open lands
    • 117 properties with shared risks with adjacent properties (i.e. shared wood fence)
       
  • Filled the vacant Assistant Chief of Training position allowing the department to continue to meet not only its required training but go further and develop training to maintain our highly skilled team and help address the ever-increasing demand for services    
     
  • Continued operations through the pandemic with no loss or break of emergency service to the community
     
  • Deployed the EMAC Wildland Engine and crews to California to help fight the worst wildfires in California’s history

Moving into 2021, the team will reflect the importance of having a resilient and proactive staff and operations and training programs.  The team never imagined having to deal with a global pandemic like we have in the year 2020.  Although we have all done an excellent job managing the pandemic and all it has thrown at us.  Like most departments, cities, or countries we were not prepared to the level we should have been, proud of what we have accomplished and will learn from this event to be better prepared moving into the future.  

 

MUNICIPAL COURT

  • The team accomplished their goal for 2020 which was to work closely with the City and the County for a smooth transition out of the Court House and into the Law & Justice building.

The Court also,

  • remained open during the pandemic.  The Court was closed briefly to the public during the March shutdown, but never stopped doing the duties of the court.  The team is very thankful for city departments, outside entities and family members for their patience, help and work that went into opening the new court space. 
     
  • received a foundational training grant for DUI Treatment court with the hopes of attending training during the 2021 year.

 

PARKS, RECREATION AND OPEN LANDS

For 2020, Parks, Recreation and Open Lands Divisions anticipated they would:

  • Work with the Historic Preservation Office to secure grant funding to restore the damaged wood beams on the Fire tower at Fire tower Park.
     
    • The team continues to work with the Historic Preservation Office to secure this grant funding and is in the top 12 finalists for a Department of Commerce Grant. Additionally, Parks Department funding is currently secured and budgeted for the remainder of repair costs for FY 2021. 
       
  • Identify and activate public spaces through a partnership with Montana State University’s Architecture program.
     
    • While the recreation program was not able to work with Montana State University’s Architecture program this year due to COVID, the Parks Department did secure funds and completed construction of the Hill Park Stage area, a small infrastructure project designed to provide outdoor performance space options that facilitate social distancing. This provides more outdoor use and programming options in downtown public spaces.
       
  • Continue to focus on programming and exploring new partnerships at the Civic Center to include a formal request for interest from outside entities.
     
    • The Civic Center completed a request for interest and received six responses from various industry and community groups. Additionally, the Parks Department is working with the Civic Center Steering Committee to identify a new advisory board and complete a request for proposals that focuses on further developing and formalizing partnership opportunities.
       
  • Continue the DNRC grant project to further diversify the urban canopy.
    • Urban Forestry did in fact continue the DNRC grant project and further diversified the urban canopy including the removal of 120 ash trees and more than 200 new plantings and replacements with the wood waste donated to the Low-Income Energy Assistance Program.

The team also accomplished:

  • Completion and adoption of an updated Recreation Chapter to the Helena Open Lands Management Plan, born out of more than a year of stakeholder involvement, public meetings and community input and consensus building. The new recreation chapter includes a new public involvement plan for major recreation projects on Open Lands that was employed this Fall and Winter, with a slate of new major recreation projects adopted by the commission at the end of 2020. 
     
  • Completion and implementation of improved infrastructure construction, in partnership with Public Works and Transportation Departments, at the Beatie Street Trailhead, the second most used trailhead in the Helena open lands system.

Moving into 2021, the team will reflect on the hard work in 2020 and adjust to operations during a pandemic and maybe solidify what they live day in and day out in the parks department: that parks, outdoor recreation, trails, open lands, trees, open spaces, and public spaces are all essential to our health and wellbeing as a city and a community. Helena has made heavy investments in outdoor spaces and recreation and that payed dividends this year as we saw record use of our trails and the city’s parks and golf course. We were even able to provide essential services with space in our Civic Center for court and other socially distanced gatherings, and live-streaming arts events. And even though our revenue losses were huge, it underscored how important it is for the City to have, care for, and continue to support these City assets.  

 

POLICE

In 2020, the Police Department anticipated...

  • running a Citizen Police Academy with -a pproximately 25 participants organized by a civilian volunteer
     
    • The team had this scheduled for April of 2020. With the state of emergency caused by the COVID-19 outbreak, this has been postponed. It is unlikely we will be able to move forward with this project until later 2021 or spring of 2022.

The Department also...

  • Experienced the Capitol complex becoming the epicenter for protests and rallies for various issues in 2020. Rallies have become weekly events at the Capitol. Police have worked with community partners, including event organizers, to keep events peaceful.

Looking at 2021 and reflecting on the national and local discussion around the police reform, the department began reviewed ways to improve policies and procedures.  The team will be working with community partners to improve the community response to mental health, data collection, and community input into the department operations.   

 

PUBLIC WORKS

In 2020, Public Works anticipated

  • Completing the Westside Water and Sewer Main Extension Phase 1 and 2.
     
    • Roughly 70% of this work has been completed with the balance to be completed early summer of 2021.
       
  • Working to perfect a significant ground water reservation for the deep aquifer, an aquifer not used by the average resident, in the Helena Valley. Water Treatment Division will drill test wells in the deep aquifer to inform our decision on where to place full production public water supply wells. The groundwater supply has the potential to provide superior water in taste, resiliency from contaminants, reliability, and cost.
     
    • The first phase of this work occurred in 2020 which included completing one well at the Missouri River Treatment. Currently staff is working with the consultant to proceed with the next phase of the project that will continue installing production wells near the plant.
       
  • Expanding the Transfer Station recycling drop-off sites to promote customer convenience.
     
    • In 2020, the City and Lewis & Clark County established two new recycling drop-off sites: one was placed off Lincoln Road at the Grub Stake parking lot and the second off Canyon Ferry Road at the Mini Basket parking lot.  At the Grub Stake there are two 6-yard cardboard containers and at the Mini Basket there is one 6-yard cardboard container. At each location there is one 30-yard recycling roll off.  Both sites are serviced weekly and continue to grow in popularity.

In 2020, the team also,

  • Completed the bi-annual permitting for the Scratch Gravel Solid Waste District which included 15,000 permits.
  • Completed the Beattie Street Trailhead that is a great addition to the Park Departments Inventory.
  • Avoided a tragedy on Christmas Day through the hard work and dedication of the Water Treatment and Utility Maintenance Staff. The water main coming into town from the Ten Mile Water Treatment Plant broke losing around 2 million gallons of treated water. City staff was able to switch treatment plants to supply water before any customer ran out of water.

Moving into 2021, City staff will reflect on the public process on the Rodney Street Project to streamline the design process and complete both phase 1 and 2. Public Works staff learned from Transfer Station Warm Storage Building Project that an update to the transfer station master plan is needed.  

 

TRANSPORTATION SYSTEMS

For 2020, the Transportation Systems Department anticipated:

  • Expanding snow removal services by 49%, around the Capital and other commercial areas.
     
    • In 2020, the snow removal program was expanded and anticipates continued focus on removal around the Capital and other commercial areas when snow accumulation is adequate.
  • Increasing efficiency on striping and pavement markings.
     
    • The team continued to improve the striping and pavement markings operations by using hot tape in specific areas rather than painting.  Painting requires annual maintenance where the hot tape is more durable.  The Department is using more epoxy paint on long lines that typically sees longer life rather than acrylic paint.
       
  • Continuing discussion on improvements to the transit system.
     
    • Transit continues to look at ways to improve public transportation.  This year the Department will be acquiring new software for a better interface for the riders.

In 2020, the Department also accomplished:

  • Milling and paving of half of the Sun Haven subdivision.
  • Revised asphalt patching procedures.
  • Created an online Snowplow map available to the public to show when roadways were last plowed.
  • Purchased a new leaf vacuum. This leaf vac should increase efficiencies of leaf pick up in the fall of 2021.
  • Created a new permit for contractor trailers with a building permit to park on the street between Nov 1st and April 15th.
  • Increased productivity in the department by using City Works for all work requests.
  • Continued to utilize and improve the My Helena App for tracking and responding to citizen requests for service.
  • Moved crews to separate work schedules to ensure safe working conditions during the COVID pandemic.

Moving into 2021, the team anticipates:

  • Rolling out of an interactive sweeping map and a map of areas and dates when the sweepers will be in the area for spring 2021.
  • Continuing to improve response to service requests.
  • Looking to further public engagement on major projects.
  • Evaluating transit needs and how to best use existing resources to serve the larger community.
  • Evaluating parking downtown and explore innovative ideas to revise/improve parking services.
  • Implementing an almost entirely digitized records retention and document work flow system
  • Modernizing the volunteer sidewalk program.
  • Implementing Integrated Business Solutions into shop operations.

CONCLUSION

Helena continues to work with many partners, including Lewis & Clark County, the State of Montana, the city of East Helena, YMCA, Helena Food Share, National Forest Service, Helena Housing Authority, Rocky Mountain Development Council, United Way, Helena Regional Airport, and many others giving of their time and energy.  While we continue to work with our partners to improve our growing city, we must recognize the great deal of work that is ahead of us.  We must boldly tackle tough issues, such as affordable housing for our vulnerable populations, and public safety, while still reflecting the principles and charitable character of our citizens.  Together, with our partners, we will accomplish these goals and more, while still tending to our fiscal responsibilities and in service to those who entrusted these decisions to us. 

As the City Charter states, Helena is the proud seat of our state government, and as such, it should strive to be the model for the future of our great state.  Ladies and Gentlemen the state of affairs of the city is strong.

I thank you all and I am looking forward to serving you in the years to come. God Bless this City, State and these United States.

 

 

 

 

Helena City-County Building