Missoula City Council stockimage

Missoula City Council Chambers.

Missoulians certainly love their parks and trails, but paying for them is becoming increasingly difficult, as the city added several miles and dozens of acres of new public land.

Between downtown’s Art Park, the Reserve Street pedestrian bridge and additions to the Missoula-Lolo trail, Parks & Recreation Director Donna Gaukler said they’d need over $80,000 for maintenance alone, not to mention improvements.

That was at Missoula City Council’s weekly budget meeting, where the committee heard from several departments on spending not approved by the mayor in the first budget draft.

The inability to keep up with fast growth was a common issue. Development Services Director Mike Haynes asked the committee to consider adding two engineers, at a total cost of $134,000, to speed up development plan approval.

At one time Haynes had a goal of reviewing and approving commercial development plans in 10 days, but that’s ballooned to six or eight weeks, even as he gets help from other departments to keep up with the workload.

Missoula broke development records with $216 million in construction in 2016 and Haynes thought even more would have been approved if he had the needed staff.

Public Works director John Wilson put it succinctly in his brief comments.

“Right now, what we’re doing…is not sustaining,” he said.

The first draft of the city budget, which Engen has said maintains the current level of service, proposed a 3.87 percent increase in taxes.

A 1 percent increase is equal to an additional $330,000 spent by the city.

Municipal Court Judge Kathleen Jenks asked the council to fund several programs as part of the Jail Diversion Master Plan, a guiding document adopted by the city and county in 2016 that gives solutions to jail overcrowding and mistreatment of offenders.  

Her proposals called for the city to pay for multiple treatment and incarceration options that are currently paid for by the offender. Jenks said offenders often use those fees as a reason not to comply with treatment requirements.

Under her proposal, the city would pay:

  • $338,000/year to pay for the Alcohol, Counseling & Treatment program for first-time DUI offenders.
  • $23,400/year to fund Alternative Jail, which allows inmates to schedule stints in jail around their work.
  • $44,750/year for pre-trial monitoring for alcohol convictions.
  • $21,375/year for house arrest (based on 1,500 days per year).
  • $30,000/year to mail monthly fine and restitution statements instead of quarterly.

“This is a major issue in our community with the mental health, with the drug addiction and we can’t wait for the state or the federal government to show leadership,” Ward 3 representative Emily Bentley said. “This is just as much of a priority, and our responsibility, as the other things (budget items).”

The council will continue public budget meetings on July 12.

All the FY18 budget documents can be viewed on the city’s website by finding the City Budgets link on the left side of the main page and clicking “FY18 Preliminary Budget.” 

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City, County Government Reporter

Government Reporter for The Missoulian.