The most troubling aspect I found was that Missoula is spending $7 million of your tax money to fix the water company when it already bonded $50 million to pay for this.
Where the hell’s that $50 million?
Let’s follow the money.
We’re not going to get into the FY 2019 Preliminary Budget today.
The mayor isn’t scheduled to release the proposed budget to the public until August 8. Then on August 27 a pubic hearing will be held to adopt the budget, as well as the various tax levies.
The only real figures I have until then come from a 5-page budget process workbook.
Here are some things that stood out to me when it comes to the city’s spending:
- $480,000 in non-union salary increases
- $400,000 to update the downtown master plan
- $307,000 for two new police officers
- $197,000 to hire three street operators
- $145,000 in urban forestry staffing
- $135,000 for a fire department assistant mechanic
- $100,000 for a Deputy City Attorney
- $84,000 for a wastewater compost chemist
- $81,000 for a storm water regulatory compliance specialist
- $78,000 for a public works electronic technician
- $77,000 for Russell Street maintenance
- $55,000 for a public works administrative assistant
- $55,000 for a System Housing Navigator
- $45,000 for a Seasonal Traffic Services Laborer
- $38,000 for storm water sampling
- $35,000 for Broadway Island maintenance
- $32,000 for Jeffrey Park operations
- $31,000 for graffiti remover
- $30,000 for Montana Rail Link Park operations
- $17,000 for a police staffing study
- $13,000 for Bitterroot Trail Extensions
- $8,000 for police ammunition
- $5,000 for Grant Creek Trail
- $3,200 for eye glasses
- $2,500 for snow removal at the new Catlin Street police facility
- $2,000 for stand-up desks
All of that stuff comes to $2.4 million. Personally, I feel much of that is unnecessary, or could at least be scaled back.
I see a common example of the county wasting money each day, for instance – they water the fairgrounds grass during the hottest part of the day.
If they watered at night the ground would retain more moisture, meaning they’d need to water less. This would save money.
Neither the city nor the county is interested in saving money, however.
In total, there are over $1.2 million in one-time costs and $5.3 million in ongoing costs that agencies want added to next year’s city budget.
That means we have a total of $6.6 million in new budget requests from the various city departments and agencies.
Putting drunken sailors to shame.
The mayor wrote a 5-page letter to accompany the budget, something he calls the ‘strategic framework.’
The mayor tells us right away that he’s “using data from a citizen survey and public open house” to do things differently “from the way we’ve done them for the last dozen years.”
Despite that, you know deep down that the mayor will be taking more money from you this year than he did last year.
Why? Well, to build his pet projects and to rub the rich developer’s back, that’s why.
The mayor tells us that “there’s an expectation that property-tax increases commensurate with inflation and modest improvements in service are reasonable.”
The mayor says that the community “views property taxes as an investment in a great place to live, but there’s a limit.”
After that the mayor tells us his five goals:
- Organizational excellence
- Economic growth and sustainability
- Investment in existing infrastructure and assets
- Sustainable, intentional growth
- Environmental and human health
Yes, the goals are lofty…but give us few specifics. Talking points, mostly.
And then in the next few paragraphs, the mayor tell us about the 9 new city employees. No costs were given for those employees, though it’s a safe bet to assume $500,000 of the budget will be eaten up annually in salary and benefits and payroll taxes to have them on staff.
Finally, the mayor tells us that we’ll be funding the following infrastructure projects this year:
- Streets and sidewalks: $6.7 million
- Park construction and upgrades: $2.2 million
- Water system improvements: $6.9 million
- Wastewater system improvements: $1.2 million
- Equipment replacement: $2.6 million
All that stuff comes to $19.6 million.
Personally, I’d like to see a detailed line-item budget for these things. I mean…over $2 million to replace equipment? What equipment is this, exactly…and where is the city purchasing it from?
None of these questions will be asked by your City Council, your newspaper, or your TV news.
I also find it interesting that we’re spending nearly $7 million on water system improvements. Is that money coming out of the $140 million bond we passed to pay for the water company and needed improvements, or will this be coming out of the city’s budget?
The mayor mentions that all of that nearly $20 million in spending will be part of the Capital Improvement Program, which he calls “the unsung hero of the City budget.”
So yes…this is your tax money at work. And yes – we’ll be using tax money from the budget to fund water system improvements, not the $140 million bond we passed a few years ago.
Remember, the water company cost $90 million, but the mayor wanted an extra $50 million in bonding debt so he could have a piggybank with which to fix the water company.
Now we see that $50 million isn’t being used. I wonder if that $50 million is still around, or if it’s been wasted already.
We’ll have to dig more into the numbers over the next few weeks to find out for sure.
“City of Missoula Requested Enhancements.” City of Missoula. Retrieved 28 July 2018. https://www.ci.missoula.mt.us/DocumentCenter/View/43795/New-Requests-Summary
“FY 2019 Budget Calendar.” City of Missoula. Retrieved 28 July 2018. https://www.ci.missoula.mt.us/DocumentCenter/View/43791/FY19-Budget-Calendar
“Mayor’s Letter and Strategic Framework.” City of Missoula, Office of the Mayor. 13 July 2018. https://www.ci.missoula.mt.us/DocumentCenter/View/43828/Mayors-letter-and-strategic-framework