Plowing and prosecuting: Public Works, city attorney pitch budget needs for FY2020

The City Attorney’s Office on Wednesday asked the Missoula City Council to consider funding another attorney to help prosecute a growing caseload in municipal court, which remains one of the busiest in the state.

The $71,000 ask is just one of many funding requests the City Council will consider as it writes its Fiscal Year 2020 budget, a process that will play out over the coming weeks.

“We have requested and the mayor has supported our request for an additional attorney, and we hope it will be favorably adopted this budget cycle,” said City Attorney Jim Nugent. “We feel it’s a really important time that we get this additional prosecutor for our office.”

Each week through August, city departments will present their budget needs, all of which must win City Council approval. Last week’s presentations included the Missoula Fire Department and Municipal Court.

Public Works joined the City Attorney’s Office in this week’s pitch, with requests ranging from traffic signals to cemetery care. But it was street maintenance that stood among the department’s largest financial asks.

Overall, the department is seeking a 13 percent funding boost of $1 million, which has already won the mayor’s support. The work includes deferred maintenance and system preservation.

“We’re looking to increase our staffing and the materials needed to really carry out that work,” said Public Works director Jeremy Keene. “We’re working to address our deferred maintenance. We also see some opportunities to improve our snow response, pothole filling and crack sealing.”

This spring, Public Works attempted to quantify its maintenance gap and the total cost of replacing the city’s street system. The study placed that cost at around $1.6 billion.

“If we had to go back and replace all the streets today, that would be the order of magnitude of the cost,” he said. “Maintaining that asset is really important. We estimated that our maintenance gap is probably in the order of magnitude of $7 million a year.”

Keene said it costs roughly $19,000 a year to maintain one mile of city roadway. Based on the number of lane miles, he said, “we’re not keeping up.” And the miles of city streets continue to grow, including nearly 10 new miles included with city’s recent annexation.

“The staffing level has been relatively flat,” Keene said. “At $19,000 a mile, we need about 1 full-time (employee) for every seven miles of road. At 367 total miles, we’re about 20 full-time (employees) short of where we think we should be. We know we can’t make that all up at once.”

This year, the department is asking for six new employees to “help make a dent” in the deficiency. One employee would help with summer roadwork and street painting. Four would be assigned to street maintenance, and other would support electronics and traffic signals.

The department is also taking a new approach to snow plowing.

“If I get these additional (employees) and equipment, I plan on doing a fairly substantial reorganization of our snow plan, so I can incorporate using these new personnel and equipment to better serve those residential areas,” said Brian Hensel, deputy director of streets. “All they will be doing is residential. They will not be doing priority streets.”