Alright...so what do you cut?
Because when you look at the city budget, you see that 77% of all spending is on personnel.
That means city workers.
So if you don’t want to fire anyone, you have just 23% of the budget to work with.
So what do you cut?
It’s a simple question, yet so hard to answer. This fall, we’ll see many stumble on that question, playing tongue-twisters with themselves as they try to come up with something...anything, that makes them seem like they know what they’re talking about.
The truth is, they don’t.
They have no idea.
So let’s offer up 5 ideas for what to cut out of the city budget.
Like I said, 77% of the city budget goes to staffing costs. The easiest place to cut is this, by firing workers that we don’t need.
The city has 686 full-time employees on staff right now.
Last year, they added 20 more people. Yeah...when most businesses were laying people off because of the pandemic, our local government actually hired more people.
Was that a good idea? How did it benefit you? Because, you’re the one paying for it. If you can’t point to a single way these new 20 people have benefited you, then why are you paying them?
In fact, since those 20 people were hired, the city has actually become slower at allowing new home construction.
The city thinks hiring 5 new people is the answer.
For argument’s sake, let’s say these 20 people are paid $50,000 each. That comes to $1 million a year.
But that’s not quite accurate. Because we have to pay payroll taxes on them, insurance, healthcare, and probably more. I’d bet that adds an extra $500,000 to that, maybe more.
Savings: $1.5 million
#2 Purchased Services
We spent $3.6 million on purchased services this year, according to our 2021 budget.
What is that?
This is the government hiring the private sector to do work they either can’t do, or don’t want to do.
Um...we have 686 people on the city’s payroll...you’re telling me none of them can do this work?
Now, I imagine some of these services are justified...but $3.6 million worth? Imagine if we did some of this work in-house, with existing city staff. How much money could we save?
I think we can save $2 million, easily.
Savings: $2 million
#3 Grants and Contributions
This year we spent $3.3 million on grants and contributions.
What is that? Personally, I have no idea. I’d bet $10 that the heads of those departments don’t either.
Why would I make such a bet?
Because two years ago I called a couple departments about their miscellaneous expenses. They had no idea what I was talking about.
I do know one item of this from the budget: The Missoula Redevelopment Agency used $1,500 as a grant for public art.
Again, I suspect some of these expenditures are justified. But $3.3 million? How about we cut that down a bit.
Savings: $2 million
One of the most glaring items in the budget when it comes to the general fund is the $5.6 million we spend on “other.”
There’s no description of what this is. It could be anything...we have no idea.
Because we have no idea what this is, we have no idea how it’s benefiting us...or possibly hurting us.
I think chopping $4 million off this wouldn’t raise a single eyebrow of those working in the private sector.
Savings: $4 million
#5 The MRA
The Missoula Redevelopment Agency is the plague on our city’s general fund. Money that should go there - with oversight from our city council - is instead diverted to the MRA, where it has no oversight.
It’s hard to follow this money-trail in the city budget, but we do know that the urban renewal districts (URD’s) are costing us a lot of money.
Let me correct that - it’s costing you a lot of money. The city lists this as revenue. The main source of that is tax increment financing.
Here’s how it works: the city’s low on money, they need more, they pick an area of town, say it’s blighted and needs renewal, label it an urban renewal district, and force businesses there to pay more taxes.
We have a lot of URD’s and I’ll probably miss some, but here’s what I can see in the budget beginning on page 59:
- Front Street URD: $3 million
- Hellgate URD: $338,000
- North Reserve/Scott Street URD: $2.9 million
- Riverfront URD: $978,000
- URD II: $7.5 million
- URD III: $9.9 million
So those 6 URD’s have a combined revenue of $24.6 million.
But that’s not the whole story. They also have expenses. These total over $31 million.
Where is this money going? The lion’s share is “Transfer to Other Funds.”
So it’s moving around money, play money, money the city can use to fill holes, hire new people, or use for special projects...like dog sculptures in parks.
Even if we wanted to save money here, we couldn’t...because the URD’s are costing us $6 million more a year than they bring in.
And when I say “bring in,” that really means the city takes tax money out of your pocket to spend on whatever they want.
This is wrong.
If we would take the time to undo the damage, I imagine the savings for Missoula businesses and taxpayers would be immense.
By simply eliminating the deficit these URD’s currently produce, we’d save $6 million a year.
Savings: $6 million
Let’s add up our savings.
It comes to $15.5 million.
You might remember that the city’s deficit this year was $14 million.
Wow, we could potentially fill that budget hole!
Of course, many will argue against the math I just gave you. They’ll offer up excuse after excuse to justify that spending.
But at the end of the day...what’s more important? That the city has all its wants, or that some long-time resident can stay in their home or apartment?
I don’t want to tell someone that’s been living here their whole life that they have to move because of city policies. Do you?
These are tough questions, and I don’t have all the answers.
I’m just a minimum-wage, service industry worker going through public documents that the city provides.
None of the media do this, none of the city council candidates are doing it, and none of the mayoral candidates are doing it. You sure as hell know that Mayor Engen won’t.
If taxes are too high and the city’s spending too much, then why aren’t people digging into the budget to find solutions?
I think the answer is painful, but simple:
They don’t really care.