By Martin Kidston/Missoula Current

The Missoula City Council will turn its focus to the 2018 budget this week, kicking off the multi-month process of crafting the annual document that outlines spending priorities over the next year.

This time around, the council will have a new mission statement to work from, along with a set of goals agreed to by members of the council and Mayor John Engen during discussions that took place last year.

In a strategic letter issued to the council on March 23, Engen outlined both the mission and vision for the city, one where “all people can live and celebrate meaningful, purposeful and fulfilling lives” through recreation, cultural and entrepreneurial opportunities.

“This budget should be a foundation for the future, a tool that matches the principles of the community with the programs of its government,” Engen said in his letter. “It cannot, by nature and fiscal constraint, do it all.”

Discussions around the 2018 budget began in November, an intentional move spearheaded by several council members looking to start the process earlier and leave time for more discussion and collaboration.

Under the old process, the council typically received the mayor’s budget in early June and had less than three months to adopt it. That left little time to make changes, examine recent budgeting history or debate further needs.

Ward 6 council member Marilyn Marler believes that getting started on the budget sooner will improve the process. City leaders gathered in December to continue discussions and they agreed on a process and timeline moving forward.

“We haven't had a substantive discussion of the budget yet,” said Marler. “But I hope that by getting started earlier, there will be less arguing over small bits later in the process.”

In his letter, Engen identified four primary goals for the looming budget process, including economic growth and sustainability, organizational excellence, infrastructure and assets, and the environment and human health.

He believes the city must continue to invest in a sound housing policy, clean air and water, and infrastructure.

“Our budget should invest in continued planning and execution, and administration of existing plans that ensure our growth is as well-managed as possible,” Engen said in his letter. “We must continue to invest in housing policy and infrastructure before a critical issue becomes a community crisis.”

The city's mission statement calls on community leaders to enhance opportunity and quality of life through fiscal stewardship and city services. It also calls for creating a “harmonious and natural built environment.”

“I think everyone is in line with that,” Marler said. “It's important that everyone agrees a long-term mission.”

The city will discuss its strategic budgeting plan on Wednesday at 1 p.m. in City Hall.