“I’m going to pay attention to streets and roads,” Mayor Engen says after city survey

Crews work on Mary Avenue last summer. The results of a new city survey conducted by the University of Montana found that 80 percent of residents like living in Missoula, though some would pay more taxes for better streets. (Missoula Current file photo)

A new survey conducted by the University of Montana found that most Missoula residents rate the city’s quality of life as good or excellent, and it found above-average support for increasing fees or taxes to address deficiencies, such as roads and housing.

Exactly what that means will take a little more work, though the survey results will likely inform city leaders as they sit down to craft the Fiscal Year 2019 budget over the coming months.

“We need to understand what services they (residents) want, and then we’ll figure out ways to pay for those services based on all the other things we balance as a function of the budget process,” said Missoula Mayor John Engen. “For me, understanding what some of the community priorities are based on this survey is the most significant takeaway.”

The survey, commissioned by the city and conducted by the Social Science Research Laboratory at the University of Montana, found that nearly 80 percent of those polled rated the quality of life in Missoula as good or excellent, compared to 7 percent who said it was below average or poor.

When broken down by income, the results changed only slightly, though views on quality of life increased with income.

“That quality of life improves as income improves,” said Jessica Miller, who works in the Office of the Mayor. “But even for the lower income brackets, we don’t have folks saying their quality of life is terrible.”

The survey also found high satisfaction in fire and police services, recreational opportunities and access to biking and walking trails. It found lower satisfaction in housing, planning for growth, traffic management and street issues, including repair and maintenance.

On a similar front, more than 23 percent cited housing as the city’s most pressing issue, followed by 11 percent who said taxes were too high, and 9.4 percent who named infrastructure. Other concerns included low wages, traffic and job creation.

The survey found moderate to above-average support for increasing fees or taxes to address the issues.

“While it’s nice to see that folks are willing to pay more, that doesn’t presume for a minute that we will raise taxes in specific areas,” Engen said. “Having this survey in hand is informative.”

Miller said the survey was conducted by phone with 606 randomly selected residents. And while Engen and several members of the City Council cited the need to drill deeper into the data, the findings will serve as a starting point heading into the budget process.

Over the past several years, Engen said, the city has sought ways to pull public interest into the annual budget, including the delivery of local services and community needs. The City Council will discuss the results at a future strategic planning session, and the city intends to host a public open house to explore the issues found in the survey in greater detail.

“As I begin to work with a team to craft the executive budget, I’m going to be paying attention to streets and roads, I’m going to be paying attention to housing,” Engen said. “The places where we have lower satisfaction, we’ll learn more about those and address those throughout the budget process.”