Back in May I told you about Radical Changes in the Missoula City Budget.
The most noticeable change was the budget’s length, going from 355 pages in 2020 to just 71 pages in 2021.
The reason for this was primarily Covid-related.
I was informed by the city that there’s an additional 60-page document called FY2021 Adopted Budget Workbook with resolutions. This has very detailed line-item budget requests by department.
This information is online and available to anyone, but most of all, the four people running for mayor.
We know John Engen is going to know this stuff inside and out, as he’s been in charge of these budgets for nearly 20 years.
But what about the other guys?
We know from Jacob Elder’s own website that his main issues are housing affordability, fiscal responsibility, affordable childcare, homelessness, and behavioral health.
Here’s what he says on that second point:
“Missoula’s high burden of taxation is a direct result of its rapid government growth. As a rule, a fiscally responsible budget means spending grows at the rate of economic growth. Missoula has far outpaced this measure over the last decade, necessitating the imposition of higher taxes, special assessments, and many fees. To change this, we will focus on keeping spending growth consistent with economic growth. Lower tax burdens and the right kind of government will best promote growth in Missoula.”
This is where candidates will often get caught-up, either by a reporter’s question, something in the debate, or perhaps just on social media.
You really don’t want to be looking like a fool, and that’s why it’s so important to do your homework and memorize some numbers so you can throw them out off the top of your head.
For instance, when I was running in 2019 for Ward 4 I was fond of pointing out that the city is $250 million in debt. It costs us $16 million just to pay the interest on that debt each year. It might not sound like a lot, but our whole police department budget is $15 million.
Those are effective talking points. Here’s another one.
Did you know the city had $190 million in revenue last year, but spent $204 million? So that means we’re in the hole for $14 million. That’s no way to live.
These are very simple talking points that, sadly, you never will get from the media. You actually have to go into the budgets and find this yourself.
Now, where are some areas that Engen will hit back, trying to discount the main issues the other candidates are espousing?
I think one area he has to focus on is housing.
It’s interesting that in 2019, our Department of Housing budget was $842,000. We increased that substantially in 2020, to $2.1 million. But then for 2021, we only raised it up to $2.2 million. I’m sorry, but an extra $100,000 just isn’t going to cut it, not when we have workers struggling to find a place to live, and businesses struggling to find workers that can actually live and work here.
And not for one second do I think raising taxes to help ease the housing crunch is the right idea. Government is currently creating the problem; the idea that they can fix it with taxes is laughable.
In 2020 we budgeted $18 million for the police and for 2021 we gave them just $1 million more.
I’m sorry, but is this sufficient? For years the city has been expanding its boundaries, specifically out to the airport. Police have complained for years that they’re overworked, understaffed, and getting burned-out. Most cannot afford to buy a home in the city they work in.
With increased homelessness and drug abuse and addiction issues stemming from the pandemic, we need to increase our police budget more.
So where do we get the money for that, considering we have to start this year’s budget $14 million in the red, which is about 75% of the current police budget?
This is a very good question, and candidates better figure out some answers to it.
The General Fund
In 2019 we had $54 million in the general fund, that rose to $58 million the next year, and for 2021 we have $61 million.
The vasts majority of that money goes to pay the city workers, $45 million, or 73%.
After that, there’s not a lot to work with. But there are questions.
- We spent $3.6 million on purchased services this year, meaning we’re contracting out to the private sector. For what, why, and can we do more of that in-house with existing city workers?
- We spent $3.3 million on grants and contributions. To whom are these going to, why, and is it really the city’s job to do this? We need a line-item list for this.
- We spent $5.6 million on “Other.” What is this, where can we find a line-item list for this, and how can we cut this down by even $1 million, just for starters?
The nice thing is, the budget gives you all the answers...you just have to look.
So let’s take a look at those $3.6 million purchased services. That comes to 14 separate items, the largest of which is $298,000 for repair work with the Facility Maintenance Department. They also spent $279,000 for their electric bill. Lots of money, but probably justified. That department spent a total of $624,000 on purchased services this year.
The IT Department spent $728,000. $500,000 of that was for repairs (which are not listed), and they also spent a whopping $195,000 on their telephone bill.
Trust me, there’s a lot more.
General Fund Revenue Sources
The city brings in nearly $26 million from property taxes and another $2 million for assessments, giving them a total tax revenue of nearly $28 million.
Licenses and permits bring in another $1.2 million.
Intergovernmental revenues bring in another $18.5 million, most of which is coming from the state via HB 124, or $9.3 million.
The city charges for certain services, and this brought in $5 million. This can be anything from the sale of graves ($7,500) to sidewalk and curb fees ($225,000).
That makes up the lion’s share of our general fund revenue of $58 million.