Martin Kidston

(Missoula Current) With the budgeting season just weeks away, the City of Missoula on Wednesday rolled out its strategic plan for the next three years – one that places emphasis on goals around climate, equity and housing while looking for new opportunities and new partnerships.

While the plan is steeped in social services and ideals around community well-being, it helps the city identify its key priorities and ensure its decisions are based upon administrative priorities.

“Keeping those decisions front and center really helps us center our priorities and ensure that every administrative and staff decision is in service of those priorities,” Mayor Jordan Hess said.

The plan is based upon five guiding principles including trust, opportunity, inclusion, environment, and economy. It also includes the city's core services such as recreation, water, streets, and police and fire. From there, it dives into four strategic pillars “that encompass all aspects of city operations.”

The first goal identified by the strategic plan looks to community safety, health and well-being, which includes “partnering to provide support services for people in crisis” and ensuring “that all residents have equitable access to health and wellness.”

A close read of the strategic plan lends insight as to what funding priorities the city may consider as it crafts its Fiscal Year 24 budget.

“Some notable action items include continuing support for the mobile support team, continuing to support the crisis intervention team, and working with community partners to determine a long-term sustainable plan for emergency winter shelter,” said development director Eran Pehan.

The goal around safety, health and well-being also includes police and fire. Among other things, the document calls for a master fire plan to provide additional response units and it looks to establish a funding source to support a new fire station – and the fire company to staff it.

“The call volume and training has outpaced our current capacity. This is necessary to keep them on par with the city's growth,” said Police Chief Mike Colyer, who spoke on behalf of the fire department. Colyer also touched on several goals for the police department including a facility needs assessment. “It gives us options about size and cost. It also looks to evaluate site options.”

The four strategic pillars also include organizational excellence, economic health, and community design and livability,” which looks to “provide for equitable growth while maintaining a sense of place.”

“This does include developing action strategies to address displacement and gentrification,” Pehan said. “It also includes leveraging city-owned land to create opportunities for growth and redevelopment.”

Donna Gaukler, director of Parks and Recreation, said livability goals consider sustainability and the natural environment as well. They're both far-reaching categories that implicate everything from energy to transportation and development.

It also includes pinning down an accurate population projection, Gaukler said.

“We were surprised through the pandemic of the quick growth, and we may want to recognize that we may very well be a climate destination,” she said. “We need to plan appropriately on where those residents will live and how we serve them with a limited land base.”

This year's executive budget, expected later this month, comes one year removed from the passing of former Mayor John Engen. As a result, it will be the first from a new mayor in nearly two decades.

Hess described his strategic plan as “bold and forward looking.”

“We're living in a challenging time in a rapidly changing world, but I have complete confidence in our community's future and the city's organization, because we're a community that cares about people and place,” Hess said.

He added that not everything identified in the strategic plan will be funded in his upcoming budget.

“I wish they were, but we're not going to be able to do that,” he said. “But we can prioritize things in the plan and prioritize things that are supported by the goals of the plan. It's a precursor to our budget rollout which is later this month, and it's setting the stage for that.”