Well…where’s that money going?
It’s easy to find out – the city gives you all the information on their website.
Digging through it all can be a pain, however.
Still, if common citizens didn’t do that…
- How’d we ever know about the $118 million that 20 different departments want?
- How’d we know about the $3 million discrepancy between what one department is listing in their budget, and what they’re asking the City Council for?
- How’d we know about the 109 new employees the city’s added over the past decade?
- And how would we know about the $34 million in new spending that the MRA wants to dole out to its developer friends?
Don’t expect to read any of this in the news.
What we’ll do today is run down some common growth stats and try to analyze them. Next we’ll get into the departments and what they want before ending with a list of MRA expenses.
Time to follow the money.
It’s interesting to look at the City of Missoula’s growth stats.
Here are some things that stood out to me:
- We have 296 mills, compared with the 316 in Kalispell and the 213 in Billings.
- Missoula’s mill value per capita is $1.66…the lowest in the state.
- Missoula makes $491 revenue per capita…the second lowest in the state.
- Missoula is currently 29.5 square miles in size, up from the 16.7 square miles we had in 1993.
Here are some numbers comparing the last 10 years:
- Missoula’s population went from 66,962 in 2010 to 73,340 in 2017
- Roads went from 331 miles to 355 miles
- Street Division employees went from 29 to 32
- Gas tax revenue went from $1.07 million to $1.08 million
- Building permits for new projects went from 434 to 400
- Building permits for new renovations went from 1,096 to 1,034
- City employees went from 512 to 621
- City computers went from 352 to 634
So what does this all mean?
Well, something I find troubling is that we’ve seen a decade of stagnation in our building industry when it comes to the permitting process.
Even if developer’s find a spot to build on, they’ll probably have trouble getting the city to allow them to.
This creates problems in both affordable housing and the level of taxes that people have to pay when demand drives supply down.
People often complain about our roads, but they don’t seem to be a priority for the city.
Despite the city increasing in size by over 10 square miles during the past 25 years, we’ve added just 24 miles of roads in the past decade, and hired just 3 new workers to see to their deterioration.
With the gas tax flat both at the national and state level, there’s no money to pay for this…aside from the taxpayer’s pocket, or shuffling current budget money around.
And let’s also get into our open space, as voters will soon put taxpayers on the hook for $15 million to fund another open space bond.
We know that over the past 7 years we’ve seen a:
- 754% increase in the number of city trees serviced
- 79% increase in recreation program participation
- 42% increase in developed parks in Missoula
- 40% increase in the number of park shelter reservations
- 20% increase in open space lands
The City of Missoula’s developed park acreage has gone from 308 acres in 2010 to 439 today.
In addition, we’ve seen the number of urban forestry sites go from 75 to 104.
This is accessible, open space right here within the city limits. And people are taking advantage of it: recreation program participants went from around 11,000 to over 19,000 in the span of eight years.
If you build it, they will come.
They came alright, and now the city needs a perpetual mill levy to fund all these parks and trails, trees and shelters.
It costs a lot of money, and that’s why taxpayers have to pony-up another 3.8% of their money this year.
So…where exactly does that money go?
Currently, the City of Missoula has 20 departments, agencies, or budget items that will get that money.
We get most of our information from a 5-page City of Missoula budget summary document for the upcoming budget year, 2019.
Let’s go through that document, looking at the various departments and agencies, how much money they want for next year, and how big of a difference this is from the previous year.
- $53.5 million for the Total General Fund, a 6.6% increase
- $16.5 million for the Police Department, a 2% increase
- $14.7 million for the Fire Department, a 3% increase
- $8.6 million for Non-Departmental expenses, a 54% increase
- $5.8 million for Road District 1, a 17.2% increase
- $5.7 million for Park District 1, a 16.5% increase
- $2.4 million for Development Services, a 1.4% increase
- $1.6 million for Municipal Court, a 0.5% increase
- $1.6 million for the City Attorney’s Office, a 0.5% decrease
- $1.3 million for the IT Department, a 2.6% increase
- $1.2 million for the Finance Department, a 3.1% decrease
- $1 million for Fleet Maintenance, a 1.1% decrease
- $766,000 for the Housing Department, a 0.3% increase
- $743,000 for Facility Maintenance, an 8.1% increase
- $681,000 for the Cemetery, a 1.1% decrease
- $574,000 for the Mayor’s Office, a 0.5% increase
- $490,000 for the Clerk’s Office, a 3.8% increase
- $425,000 for Human Resources, a 3.7% increase
- $386,000 for the City Council, a decrease of 3.6%
- $280,000 for Central Services, about the same as last year
Those 20 budget items come to $118.2 million.
The lion’s share is of course the general fund, where the city gets a lot of its play money.
As you can see, it’s a lot. Sadly, they rarely dip into this when they can instead raise your taxes or issue a bond or mill levy.
Most of those departments have around 95% of their budgets eaten up by something called “personal services.”
I decided to look into some of the department budget proposals to see how this breaks down.
Let’s begin with the Mayor’s Office, with has a 2019 budget of $573,000
- $406,000 for salaries and wages
- $125,000 for employer contributions
- $10,000 for publicity and subscription dues
- $7,800 for other contributions
- $6,000 for the phones
- $3,300 for professional services
- $3,000 for printing
- $2,700 for supplies
- $2,500 for travel
- $2,300 for training
There’s a bit more, but that’s the gist of it. As you can see, what the workers are paid is typically the largest expense for our city government.
Remember, the city has added 109 new employees over the past 10 years.
Now, I’m not going to get into each department’s budget. Don’t expect anyone in the news media to even tell you as much as I have.
Nope, if you want to know this stuff you have to exercise your civic duty and go out and find it.
I’ve given you all the links below, in the notes.
That said, I do want to point out a few things from the departmental budgets that alarmed me.
For instance, what is the $8.6 million in non-departmental expenses?
Let’s examine them:
- $2 million in miscellaneous grants and contributions
- $2 million in miscellaneous transfers to other funds
- $1 million in miscellaneous, fixed charges
- $228,000 to service the department’s debt
- $132,000 in miscellaneous contingency funds
- $84,000 for salaries and wages
- $50,000 for repairs
- $22,000 for storm water
Those eight items come to $5.5 million.
There are 10 pages to the Non-Department Department’s budget request, and each and every page is exactly the same.
What’s also peculiar is that the department has just $5.6 million in line-item budget requests listed, but is asking the city for $8.6 million.
What’s the other $3 million…and why’s it not being accounted for?
Please tell me I’m not the only one that’s going to ask that question.
And finally, no look at the City of Missoula’s budget would be complete if we didn’t turn our attention to the Missoula Redevelopment Agency, or MRA.
They have a 28-page budget request up this year, and they want around $40 million.
Here’s how that breaks down:
- $11.4 million for miscellaneous grants and contributions
- $7.2 million in miscellaneous transfers to other funds
- $6.6 million in miscellaneous contingency funds
- $3.2 million for land and buildings
- $2.6 million to service the MRA’s debt
- $2.3 million in capital improvements
- $640,000 in professional services
- $450,000 in salaries and wages
- $142,000 for employer payroll contributions
- $11,000 in supplies
- $7,000 on repairs
- $4,500 on training
- $3,500 on travel
Those 12 items come to $34 million, and I didn’t even add everything up that was in their budget request.
Please also remember that this $34 million wasn't listed in the main, 5-page budget summary.
If we add it in, we'd get up to $152 million in city spending for next year.
What’s also troubling is that the MRA's budget request only lists things for the Riverfront Triangle Urban Renewal District Department.
More than likely, these MRA numbers will double over the coming year, through a series of general fund transfers, TIF money, and other spurious sources.
Another troubling aspect is how much stuff is bunched-up under "miscellaneous."
Why not just list those things out and tell us what they are? It's our money, after all.
Finally, it’s hard to read those reports as they list about 20 instances of grants and contributions, but just on separate pages, and there's never a grand total listed at the end of it all.
It’s almost like they don’t want anyone to know the true total.
And that should be concerning to us all.
“220 Mayor’s Office Department Budget.” City of Missoula. Retrieved 16 August 2018. https://www.ci.missoula.mt.us/DocumentCenter/View/44143/Mayors-Office-Budget
“390 Non-Departmental Department Budget.” City of Missoula. Retrieved 16 August 2018. https://www.ci.missoula.mt.us/DocumentCenter/View/44186/Non-Departmental-Budget
“City of Missoula Baseline Changes.” City of Missoula Budget Summary. Retrieved 16 August 2018. https://www.ci.missoula.mt.us/DocumentCenter/View/45845/Budget-Summary---FY2019
“MRA Riverfront Triangle URD Department Budget.” City of Missoula. Retrieved 16 August 2018. https://www.ci.missoula.mt.us/DocumentCenter/View/45223/MRA-Budget
“FY19 Budget Statistics.” Budget Committee of the Whole. 15 August 2018. https://www.ci.missoula.mt.us/DocumentCenter/View/45848/Presentation----FY19-Growth-Stats