FY 2020 budget: Requests include six new officers, funding for major road projects

A number of city departments pitched their funding needs for the new fiscal year on Wednesday, including a request to add six new police officers and set aside revenue for major road projects.

The requests continue the weeks-long hearing around the city of Missoula’s fiscal year 2020 budget, and as the city grows both in geography and population, so too do the costs of running it.

Wednesday’s requests included its share of small items, including $8,000 for ammunition for the police department and $4,000 to cover additional towing expenses.

But other requests come with a greater cost, including the police department’s request for six new officers, three of whom will patrol a newly annexed portion of city. The department has budgeted $314,000 to support those three annexation officers, a cost that includes $95,000 for patrol vehicles.

“This specific request is for the three officers tied to the annexation out west,” said Chief Mike Brady. “We had anticipated about 1,000 calls for service out there, but our responses were at 539 by June 30. We’re running a little higher than we anticipated.”

The department last year asked for six new officers in its budget and received three after certified taxable values came in lower than anticipated. Mayor John Engen added those three officers back into this year’s baseline budget, along with three others to cover the recent annexation.

“We did those three last year knowing the plan over multiple years was six,” said City Council chairman Bryan von Lossberg. “The other three that were expected last year are in the mayor’s baseline budget this year. That gets us those six. With the annexation, we’re seeing this new request for the three additional officers associated with that annexation.”

Development Services also presented its funding needs heading into the new fiscal year, including a $30,000 increase for the sidewalk subsidy program and an $80,000 increase for ADA-approved ramp assistance.

The requests also cover larger capital improvement projects, including $200,000 for complete streets and $5.8 million for collector and arterial street projects. Those include Mary Jane Boulevard and George Elmer Drive.

“We really want to be opportunistic about these types of projects,” said city engineer Kevin Slovarp. “We really can’t do these on our own. We need development to happen around them. We want to be responsive to when these developers are looking at these lands.”

Missoula County in partnership with the city has submitted a federal BUILD grant application to fund the same projects west of Reserve Street – an effort that looks to establish a road grid ahead of anticipated growth.

Slovarp said the $5.8 million requested on Wednesday would go elsewhere if the grant application is successful.

“These two projects were contemplated within the BUILD grant,” he said. “So if the BUILD grant were received, it would free up money for other projects.”

Staffing also remains a challenge at Development Services, and the department is seeking revenue from the general fund to support two new positions, including a traffic engineer and a floodplain manager.

Alecia Vanderheiden said the added staffing would help address increases in the type of projects, the number of projects, the complexity of projects and the time it takes to review those projects.

“Starting in 2018, we saw an increase in the complexity of projects coming forward for review,” she said. “In Fiscal Year 19, the annexation of the Missoula airport and development park required the creation of new zoning districts and overlays. In Fiscal Year 20, the land-use team is working with applicants on three projects that will involve annexation, zoning upon annexation, rezoning and major subdivisions.”

In 2017, the department reviewed two minor subdivisions, three final plats and two phasing amendments, according to Vanderheiden. In 2018, it reviewed one minor subdivision, one major phased subdivision and six final plat adjustments.

Just one month into the new fiscal year and the department has already processed one minor subdivision, is reviewing another, and is expecting the submittal of three major subdivisions, she said.

“A subdivision exemption that used to take two or three weeks in 2014 is now taking two to three months due to the sheer volume of work and our need to prioritize those projects that require a public hearing,” she said.

A public hearing on the proposed budget, including departmental requests, is scheduled for Aug. 19.