Martin Kidston

(Missoula Current) A number of departments went before members of the Missoula City Council on Wednesday to kick off the annual budgeting process, one that comes with warnings of a tight year in terms of funding.

While Wednesday's presentations were intended to provide insight as to where each department's budget stands as FY23 winds down, it did shed light on what may be requested in the months ahead, including salary needs.

“In a time of high inflation, there's going to be a lot of salary pressure, so how do we resolve that?” said CAO Dale Bickell. “It's continued pressure on taxes and assessments.”

The Missoula fire and police departments may both seek enhancements to their budget in FY24 to fund needs like body-worn cameras, the Mobile Support Team and rescue equipment. Parks and Recreation also may seek additional funding to cover increasing maintenance costs.

The parks department said that revenue from its various programs are currently above budget. However, running its programs “in this inflationary environment” is challenging the department's capacity.

“In Fiscal Year '24, we're looking for continued one-time support with our planning and dollars for grant matches,” said Ryan Applegate, the deputy director of Parks and Recreation. “We'll need to continue to address deferred maintenance and address overall department capacity, and continue to build our equity programs.”

As the budget season advances, each department will make their official requests for the new fiscal year. But some departments hinted Wednesday as to what type of requests could be coming. Among them, the police department may seek funding to cover vehicle needs, a patrol commander and body-worn cameras.

According to interim Police Chief Mike Colyer, the department is looking to enter into a leasing program for new cameras, which are needed to replace older cameras that no longer hold a charge through a 10-hour shift.

“If their next call is a critical incident and they don't have their body-worn camera, there will be a million questions,” said Colyer. “They're recognizing, sometimes during a call, that their camera dies. Our cameras are getting old and the battery life is getting lower and lower.”

The department may also seek a patrol commander as calls for service increase, and it's looking to expand the Crisis Intervention Team, though funding is a challenge. The fire department also needs funding to sustain the Mobile Support Team.

“What's front and center right now and a priority is to find sustainable funding for the Mobile Support Team after the Crisis Services Levy failed last fall,” said Fire Chief Gordy Hughes. “We piloted that and it's been successful. The only question is sustained funding for that unit.”

The fire department will also need to invest in new rescue equipment as old equipment wears down. Hughes said the department is providing “more remote rescues,” including calls on Mount Sentinel and “pulling people out of the river.”

As it has in each of the past few years, the department will also seek a new station to support the growing Mullan area. It would be the department's sixth station if approved.

“The master fire plan identified the need for a future station,” Hughes said. “We're hopefully heading down that road.”

Council member Gwen Jones noted the need as well.

“It's a big discussion we have to have,” she said. “Missoula is growing.”