Because of increased costs, such as salaries and energy prices, the county needs an additional $1 million in 2020 to sustain the same level of services as the 2019 budget.
“The cost of services that local government provides is increasing faster than our ability to pay for it,” said Commissioner Josh Slotnick. “The time for reckoning is now. We’re at the point where we need to start finding new ways to come up with revenue to keep up the level of services we provide.”
With a population of about 111,000, Missoula County covers 2,600 square miles, from Lolo to Condon, and from Huson to Clinton. The county consists of 30 offices and departments including district courts, sheriff’s office, detention center, public works and superintendent of schools.
The proposed 2020 budget comes to almost $189 million and includes hiring a new deputy for the sheriff’s department; a new captain for the detention center; new clerks for the treasury and motor vehicle departments; a new building inspector; new construction equipment for the public works department; replacement of a bridge on Moccasin Lane; and updates in computers and software.
The only person to speak during the public comment period was former Missoula County Commissioner Jean Curtis, who asked the commission to reconsider a budget request of $100,000 to study the feasibility of the county joining the city of Missoula in purchasing and sharing the Federal Building, downtown Missoula.
“This is a waste of public dollars,” she said.
She recommended that instead the county use available county lots, such as lots on Alder Street, “to build something that fits your needs.”
Curtis also expressed concerns about a proposal to donate county lands, adjacent to the County Detention Center, for a housing project.
“I don’t believe you had a good, adequate public process or input on this proposal,” she said. “That land was strategically purchased by the county to meet future needs of the county. While I see values in the proposed programs, I don’t think it’s a good use of county money.”
Building housing for families with children so close to a detention center with “high risk people is not wise,” she said. “I wouldn’t want to live there.”
She urged the commissioners to not use countwide money for programs and services that only benefit the city of Missoula, and not people in places like Lolo, Seeley Lake and Frenchtown.
Commissioners will not vote on whether to adopt the final budget until their Tuesday, Sept. 3 meeting, slated for 10 a.m. in the Sophie Moiese Room at the County Courthouse.