By Martin Kidston
Missoula Mayor John Engen on Wednesday unveiled his proposed budget for the next Fiscal Year, one that provides a 2 percent increase to the city’s non-union employees, adds to the city’s rainy day fund and pays for two additional police officers.
As proposed, the budget also directs $182,000 to help the city’s Department of Parks and Recreation manage the additional workload resulting from Fort Missoula Regional Park. In all, the budget levies an extra 13 mills to generate an additional $1.5 million.
The figures represent a budgetary increase of roughly 4.8 percent, Engen said.
“While I pledge to continue to seek alternatives to our wobbly, one-legged stool that is the property tax system, it’s the tool that we have,” Engen said Wednesday. “We have few sources beyond property taxes to get the work done.”
The Missoula City Council will spend the next month pouring over the budget one department at a time, engaging in one what council member described as horsetrading. In past years, the council has removed some items from the mayor’s proposed budget while adding projects of its own.
The proposed 2017 budget would direct $1.2 million to meet the city’s obligation to its unionized employees, representing a tax increase of 1.5 percent. Non-union employees would receive a 2 percent across-the-board pay increase, amounting to $300,000.
Engen also has reserved $65,000 for skill-based pay initiatives.
“Also this year, in recognition of the value of downtown real estate and the expectation of our citizens who have been victims of property crimes, we’re adding two police officers to the budget,” Engen said. “Those officers would spend the winter months investigating misdemeanors and the remainder of their year working in partnership with the Downtown Business Improvement District.”
While no increase has been reserved for the city’s Road District, the budget would direct an additional $182,794 to the city’s Parks District.
Engen said the funding would support the additional workload associated with Fort Missoula Regional Park and fund a business manager who would help the parks department better capture enterprise funding.
Though Wednesday’s unveiling was intended largely as a preview, the allocation of additional funding to the park’s department drew early questions from members of the City Council.
“I’m a little dismayed to see that $182,000 of new requests on the city taxpayers going to support that work at Fort Missoula,” said Ward 6 council member Marilyn Marler. “That’s a really big investment. I think most people probably thought the general obligation bond was going to pay for the project.”
More than 52 percent of Missoula County voters passed a $42 million Parks and Trails Bond in 2014 to develop the regional park at Fort Missoula.
Marler said she had concerns when the bond was initially floated on how the parks department would assume the workload that comes with managing and maintain the new facility.
But Engen said general obligation bonds rarely pay for operations. The funding request would help parks reorganize to better capture money generated by park activities.
“That’s part of a larger reorganization we’ve been discussing in parks for some time,” Engen said. “We’re interested in having parks, which has a lot of enterprise components, operate more effectively. I think management is spread to thin to get that done.”
Ward 3 council member Emily Bentley agreed, saying other projects in the city have been neglected as a result.
“If we’re going to be putting all the money in toward maintenance and management, I expect the city to be getting all the money that’s coming out of enterprise,” Bentley added. “I don’t think it’s fair for city residents to carry the whole burden of managing Fort Missoula Regional Park when it’s a county park, unless we’re getting all the benefit of enterprise funding.”
Also relating to the budget, Engen said the city will continue building its rain-day fund.
“Our stated policy is that we want a fund balance of 7 percent of the General Fund, which today amounts to about $3.6 million,” the mayor said. “This budget gets us to about $3.1 million.”
Engen said increases in taxable value and revenue from new building projects would be directed to boost the fund balance when they become available.
Contact reporter Martin Kidston at firstname.lastname@example.org