Counterpoint: Do the people running Missoula have any economic sense?

Greg Strandberg
Greg Strandberg

By Greg Strandberg

I’d like to thank Martin Kidston for allowing me to write about Missoula issues here. He told me he wanted a “conservative voice,” and I’ll be happy to supply that.

When I think conservative I think about one main thing: not wasting money.

Alas, the City of Missoula wastes a lot of money. The report on July 11 called Community Center Considered in Partnership With Missoula International School tells us that the city approved $40,000 for another study.

Is that really what Missoula needs, and honestly, who do these studies benefit? I’m of the opinion that they benefit a lot of city workers that don’t have enough work to do as it is.

So far over the past year, we’ve studied one-way streets for an unknown amount. It’s not reported anywhere. I’m going to assume the study was around $20,000.

That study got us a 94-page report on the feasibility of converting Front and Main into two-way streets, which would cost about $3 million. What’s wrong with the one-way streets downtown now, aside from businesses complaining that they’re losing business because of them?

I personally feel that those businesses should scrape that money together, just the same as homeowners have to scrape the $20,000 or so together that it costs to redo their sidewalks.

This $40,000 study that we’re embarking upon now is in relation to the community center, an idea that’s been kicked around since the year 2000. I think we should kick that idea right on down the road, or at least to the private sector.

Honestly, you want cash-strapped Missoulians to pony up another $20 million to expand Currents Aquatic Center to hold this community center? Wow, talk about head in the clouds.

We’re already asking for $30 million for a new library this year, and we just spent $158 million on school bonds last year.

Let’s be practical – don’t we have the YMCA now? What do we need a $20 million community center for when you can pay $20 a month and go to the Y? I guess the Y doesn’t create more city jobs, more need for government spending.

With $88 million in city debt and a huge water lawsuit on our hands, I don’t feel we need to be spending any more money. We should be finding ways to save and cut expenses.

  • Stopping this love affair with studies is a great place to start. How about we don’t do anymore studies for at least a year, or preferably longer?
  • After that I feel a hiring freeze at the city level would be a good idea. If there’s more work, pay some current employees more money as opposed to taking on new employees (and the new health and benefits packages that come with them).
  • Finally, why don’t we talk about our city’s finances more?

The post I put up on my site about Missoula’s $88 million debt was very popular, getting hundreds of views since it went up a month ago. So let’s delve a bit more into the numbers and see what we can find.

One thing I notice right away is that if you have $1 million in commercial real estate in Missoula you have to pay a tax rate of 1.6 percent. That comes out to $16,136 a year in taxes on that property.

How do businesses feel about that?

Something else I notice is that the city is operating on an $11 million deficit. We’re taking in $105 million in revenue but we’re spending $116 million. We should focus on balancing our budget, and that should be one of our top priorities. We have to cut expenses.

A good place to start is right at the top in the mayor’s office. For 2015, we budgeted $488,000 for “personal services” for the mayor’s office. What is that and why is it so much?

I guess we should be thankful it’s not more. But honestly, why is just $290,000 being spent on personal services in the Human Resources Department?

The City Clerk’s office spends $263,000 on personal services. Why is the mayor spending so much more?

And let’s not get into supplies, like $2,900 for the City Clerk, $3,100 for Human Resources and $2,732 for the Mayor’s Office.

My goodness – start using the back sides of used paper for interoffice printing.

Yes, we need to start counting pennies – it’s clear no one is now.

The city is $88 million in debt, operates on an $11 million budget deficit and shows now sign of letting up. We have to change.

As you can see, there are lots of issues with the City of Missoula’s finances that deserve more attention. I’m glad I have the opportunity to bring them to your attention on this site today, and I hope I can continue to do so each week hereafter.

Greg Strandberg is a professional writer living in Missoula. He ran for the Montana House of Representatives in 2014 and in 2016.