Missoula City Council adopts FY ’23 budget with 11% tax increase, few new programs
Martin Kidston/Missoula Current
After nearly nine hours and at 3 a.m., the Missoula City Council on Tuesday morning adopted its Fiscal Year 2023 budget, including several amendments that squeaked in at the final hour.
City taxes on a home with an assessed value of $100,000 will increase to $431, a jump of $44.99 over the prior year. The assessed value is set by the state and differs from a home's market value.
An effort by a handful of council members to make last-minute additions to the budget were largely unsuccessful, as the council majority sought to hold the line on adding more costs, or taking funding away from other departments and programs.
“If we had more resources, we'd be doing a lot more in a lot more areas,” said Acting Mayor and City Council President Gwen Jones. “We have limited resources, so we have to prioritize.”
The budget passed on a 10-2 vote, with council members Daniel Carlino and Kristen Jordan voting in opposition. They also voted against a resolution to set the city's new mill values, which essentially fund the budget.
Most of Carlino's proposed amendments didn't pass, including an effort to cut $630,000 from the city's contract for security at its various homeless camps and shelters.
“I think we can come up with a public, non-militarized team to patrol around the shelters and neighborhoods in a humane way,” Carlino said. “No private security company is okay.”
But the city's housing officials and homeless advocates said that without security, the shelters would have to close. The current security contract with Rodgers International expires on Oct. 31.
“Both the providers and residents feel security is necessary and essential to the operation of those programs,” said Eran Pehan, director of the city's office of housing and development. “We need security in place now to keep the authorized camp site and other services available and operational. We also need it to open the emergency winter shelter on Nov. 1.”
Carlino also offered four amendments to cut funding from the police department but rescinded two of them after learning they funded sexual and violent offender registration, and examinations for victims of sexual assault.
However, two other amendments were approved, including Carlino's request to add $25,000 in surplus American Rescue Plan Act funds to build traffic calming circles in neighborhoods, and a $15,000 request to further fund the city's zero waste goals.
Of the dozen or so amendments proposed on Monday, most failed, including a motion to cut a specialist from the city's program on Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion at $90,000, and to pull $900,000 in ARPA funds from Operation Shelter, which funds much of the city's initiatives on homelessness.
“To suggest there's a couple hundred thousand dollars that we could just pluck out of another departmental source without making other impacts on another city operation – I don't think that's true,” said council member Jordan Hess. “To talk about creative budgeting, that's a euphemism for cuts. That's all it is, cutting something that someone else values.”
The budget is the last offered by the late Mayor John Engen, and despite complaints from some that it doesn't fund the right social initiatives, it does direct millions of dollars to homelessness, housing and mental health, including crisis intervention and the city's Mobile Support Team.
It also funds infrastructure, police and fire, and basic city services. Not all funding requests were met, and council members cited Engen's common phrase, “Don't let perfect be the enemy of the good,” in pushing to adopt the final budget.
“There are some really good things budgeted in this budget. Is it perfect? No. Will it ever be? No,” said council member Stacie Anderson. “I know this tax increase will have a significant impact on everyone who lives in Missoula. We had to make tough cuts and we didn't get to fund everything that we wanted. It's a balancing act, and until we get fundamental tax reform, we're going to continue to have really tough conversations.”
Carlino expressed displeasure with the budget and his failed amendments.
“I won't be supporting this,” he said of the FY '23 budget. “I think our priorities could be a lot better in funding housing, climate and transportation, and not funding private security forces.”