Council members weigh in on new budget, taxes, spending
The Missoula City Council passed the FY24 budget on a 9-3 vote on Monday night. They also shared their thoughts, concerns and frustrations over the current tax structure and challenges moving forward.
“The budgets year after year get harder and harder. Folks on council would love to not be voting on a 9% increase. We have a lot of competing dynamics. We have increasing costs and we have inflation that has skyrocketed in the last couple years. We've got wages that go up every year. We've got cost of living increases with our collective bargaining agreements that we need to honor.
“Our revenue doesn't meet our baseline increases. We're in a position where we are raising taxes every year. But we're actually decreasing our level of services we're delivering every year. Our firefighters are taking longer to respond to your calls. Our roads are getting more and more potholes and we can't keep up.
“In the next few years, we're coming up on this tipping point. We're trying to maintain those levels of service, and we're not making it right now. If we're raising taxes while at the same time providing a lesser quality of service, that's a structural issue that I hope folks are paying attention to.”
“We on council need tools to help prioritize funding expenditures, particularly when we're so limited by the state about how we can generate revenue, with the majority of the tax burden relying on property taxes. I will be voting for this budget. But I do look forward to the day when we as city councilors can use metrics to assist us in prioritizing funding.”
"For years the City Council as a whole has given up on amending the mayor’s budgets. The current budget for the city is built off budgeting decisions that were made years ago and decades ago.
"Budgeting priorities from the past have continued to be funded year in and year out with very little discretion from the City Council each year. The City Council must get off of cruise control when it comes to deciding how our taxes should be spent. The rubber stamp of complacency is ensuring that we will have unprecedented tax increases and is crushing opportunities to fund our communities’ priorities."
“I want to respectfully disagree with my colleague (Daniel Carlino). Since my first year on council, I've worked with the mayor to get items in the budget that I felt were important for our community. Amendments are not the only way to get things into the budget.
“We talk a lot about a broken, antiquated tax system, and we talked about the burden shift from commercial (taxes) to residential (taxes) over time. We're dealing with inflation and supply chain issues, just like everyone else. All of these things are true, but it's also true that we're making choices of things that we feel we want to fund and we need to fund. We're making choices to keep our level of service the same at a time of inflation. We're choosing to fund public safety and work toward our climate goals, as well as many other things. Those choices are hard to make.”
“It's not lost on me at all that this (tax increase) will impact many people in our community. I've gotten comments from people asking that we don't increase property taxes, as well as people saying don't take away some of the benefits they get from the investment the city makes in the community.
“We've heard quite a bit about needs and wants, and that we shouldn't be funding wants. I'm hopeful that with the programs we're investing in that they will bear fruit and see some benefit in the form of federal grants.
“I don't think this budget is perfect. I don't think last year's budget was perfect. The decisions we make here affect everyone differently. What someone might consider a frivolous expenditure, some other person might perceive or think of it as an actual need or something they rely on.”
“There are those who say stop shifting the blame. I take a lot of offense to that because if you say that, you haven't been paying attention. It's not that we sit up here and enjoy saying the same thing over and over, but year after year we see that more and more responsibility is being asked of us at the city to take care of the basic needs of our fellow community members, and we're getting less and less tools from the state and federal government.
“Each and every one of us around this table knows someone who is going to be directly impacted and hurt by the increase in taxes, but yet there are those who will also be hurt if we cut essential services. But what are essential services? Everyone has a definition that's different than the next. It's our job to take all that input that comes throughout the year and thread the needle and do the best we can with what we have. If someone is sitting here telling you there's a silver bullet, then they're telling you a lie.”
“There are actually good things in this budget I'm proud to see us funding. The updated body camera technology for the police department goes a long way in helping them and helping the community. It provides accountability all around. And we'd be remiss if we didn't point out that a large chunk of what's going on is the increases in union bargaining contracts. We stand by labor and we support labor.
“My bigger concern is for next year. By my account, there's $4 million covered by sources that realistically we're not going to be able to do again next year. A lot of the comments have been talking about how we're lean and how we're prioritizing, and if we cut more, it's going to hurt. I'm here to say, I don't think we're going to have a choice in the coming years unless the system fundamentally changes, and I'm not holding out any belief that the system is going to fundamentally change any time soon. It means we're going to have to play the cards we're dealt. We're going to have to start talking priorities."
“As the newest person on council, I would agree with those comments that we could probably make this information easier for folks to find. I'm committed to helping that effort in the future.
“I don't take lightly what (the tax increase) will do to people's pocketbook. But when I look at the budget, it really is mostly going to public safety and that to me is a priority. I see the benefit of being able to call 9-1-1 and they actually respond, and we're dangerously close to that not being case.”
“It's always the same thing, what are our wants versus what are our needs. We blame the legislature. We blame the state. It's incredibly frustrating because the needs are police, fire and infrastructure, everything else is a want. That's what you need for a city to run.
“People are struggling and inflation is out of control. You can't just blame another part of the government. We're asking people to change their lives. Get second jobs when they retire. We're asking people to move into smaller homes when their families are growing.
“Last week was one of the hardest days on council. It was so incredibly disheartening that not one of my amendments was even discussed of possibly passing. I knew that was going to happen. But we need to say the hard no. I don't think it's a cop-out to vote no on this budget when none of my amendments passed last week.”
“I want to push back a little on (Daniel Carlino's) statement that a fully baked budget comes to us at the beginning of the budget season. I feel like all we do is budget. That's what we do all the time, every single time we meet. We amend the budget all year long.
“We have those conversations all the time about things we value and we think our constituents value. There is no singular community. We often talk about it like there is, and there's not. There is no singular community in Missoula, which makes this process so challenging.”
“Nobody takes this lightly. I kind of get the feeling some people feel that way, that it's just passing a magic wand and this budget passes. We get lots of texts and phone calls here and there, people telling us their stories. I get people face to face telling me they have to move, they can no longer live here. It really hit me pretty hard, a senior citizen on a fixed income with medical issues, who doesn't know how she's going to make it. We all get those stories.
“Can you imagine if everyone on council voted yes? What does that say to the people out there, everyone voting yes? There is more dialogue going on now. I just don't want anyone to think we take this lightly. I feel for so many people out there who can't stay here anymore.”
“I don't take this lightly. I've heard all the constituents who have called, emailed or texted to let me know all the specific things that they were not interested in us funding. I heard many people say they'd like us to stop blaming the state, and I agree.
“Next year is going to be tough with the ARPA money drying up. We all manage our own household budgets and when there's not enough money, there's not enough money. At some point, you have a revenue problem and you have to make bigger decisions.”