Providing housing and combating inflation top the early priorities outlined for Missoula’s Fiscal Year 2022-2023 budget, which was unveiled this week.
Although city staff did not release any firm numbers for the upcoming budget, they did outline the main focus areas for financial planning efforts.
They identified achieving organizational excellence, access to quality housing, investments in community safety and wellness and investments in the built and natural environment as key priorities for the approaching fiscal year.
The city will meet with individual departments to go over their budgets in the next few weeks, and the budget will be finalized in August.
City Chief Operations Officer Eric Hallstrom said inflation and a lack of tax increases during the COVID-19 pandemic will likely pose challenges for the budget.
“Inflation is a story that you will hear from all of us consistently,” he said. “The choices we have made to hold the line on taxes throughout the pandemic continues to exacerbate some of those pressures around structural imbalance.”
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Going forward, Hallstrom said it would be prudent to focus on one-time needs, rather than long-term goals, and to look at maintaining successful programs rather than adding new ones.
Overall, city staff hopes to secure the city’s general fund, which faces uncertainty due to inflation and a lack of increased tax revenue.
“We have a long-term instability in that account that needs to be addressed and planned for over the coming years,” said Hallstrom.
Hallstrom also highlighted organizational focuses on Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion efforts, new technology and recruitment.
The city looks to create and implement a JEDI work plan, update its personnel pay plan and modernize information technology services and digital security citywide.
In the upcoming fiscal year, the city also plans to acquire the federal courthouse office building in partnership with Missoula County.
“The city of Missoula is committed to ensuring that every person, regardless of economic status, has access to quality housing that is safe and affordable,” said Erin Pehan, Director of Community Planning, Development and Innovation.
In order to work toward that goal this year, the city looks to position the Sleepy Inn for redevelopment through either private development or a public-private partnership.
The city also hopes to provide tools to develop the Riverfront Triangle, plan for the development of the Payne Block where the Missoula Public Library was formerly located and complete the first phase of a comprehensive code reform.
Community safety and wellness
Missoula Police Chief Jaeson White said the Police Department wants to expand the crisis intervention team program to increase capacity for alternative responses to crises.
MPD is also budgeting for a new command-level position in order to improve oversight in the patrol division.
“As we have increased the size of the Missoula Police Department we have become a little structurally imbalanced in regard to our line-level supervision and management, so we’d like to make the workload a lot more even and equitable within the command ranks,” White explained.
Increased demand carried over from the police department to the fire department.
“Call volume is through the roof now,” reported Fire Chief Gordy Hughes.
Hughes wants to enhance the alternate response unit capacity in order to ensure the fire department maintains its response time targets “as Missoula rapidly grows.”
In terms of community services, Pehan said the city is seeking increased and permanent funding for “critical services” like the Trinity Navigation Center, which will provide wraparound support services to people transitioning out of homelessness.
“Outcomes have shown us … that these programs result in better outcomes for individuals who are in crisis as well as better outcomes for our broader community,” Pehan said.
Built and natural environment
In the parks and recreation department, Director Donna Gaukler would like to see increased child care capacity and progress on numerous parks and trails projects.
Major trail improvements pegged for Fiscal Year 2022-2023 include completion of the Waterworks Hill Trailhead.
Gaukler pointed out the role Missoula Parks and Recreation plays as a de facto child care provider, even though the city is not licensed to fill that need.
“Families need safe places for their kids to be and City of Missoula Parks and Recreation is one of the largest providers of out of school childcare, thus overall childcare, even though we are not licensed, in the community,” she said.
Gaukler also highlighted a JEDI summit taking place Oct. 27 and 28.
Public Works Director Jeremy Keene said his department plans to implement the Mullan BUILD project and the Sx͏ʷtpqyen Master Plan in FY 2023.
He added that Public Works wants to invest in safety, access and alternative modes of transportation.
He also wants to complete a solar installation on the city’s wastewater resource recovery facility, which will be the largest non-exporting solar installation in Montana when finished.