A new mechanic. Trench rescue training. Six new rescue harnesses.

Missoula Fire Chief Jeff Brandt’s requests for the 2020 fiscal year are varied. Some are relatively inexpensive, like $438 for a rescue harness to replace one that’s past its useful life of 10 years. Some are a bit more spendy, like $52,434 for a system that removes exhaust from fire stations when trucks are started indoors.

Some will get funded. Some will be cut.

Every Wednesday for the next few weeks, department heads will come before the Missoula City Council’s budget committee to make their case for their annual wish lists. Their presentations follow meetings already held with Mayor John Engen and city staff members, who have made the preliminary cuts from those lists.

The preliminary budgets are posted on the city's website before the presentations are made.

Overall, Engen's proposed budget increases total $22 million in upgrades and 18 new city staffers.

“Individual new item requests are not always funded in the budget,” noted council President Bryan von Lossberg. “These are a road map for the priorities outlined in the mayor’s budget letter.”

On Wednesday, Brandt made his presentation, as did Municipal Court Judge Kathy Jenks. Their requests are only a small part in what was a $159 million budget in Fiscal Year 2019, but are of great importance to their staffs, both noted.

Brandt had 10 items on his wish list totaling about $340,000, but as of today Engen’s proposed budget only includes about $239,000 of that. Those include the new mechanic, whose wages and benefits, including a light duty pickup, total $83,840. Engen also initially approved $31,300 in increases for utilities, garbage pickup and similar services, and a pilot program that will help out during peak activity times and cover some overtime for $66,190. Training four firefighters as paramedics each year also made the cut at an estimated cost of $56,000.

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Left out of the mayor’s budget are Brandt’s request for the six rescue harnesses and seven body armor kits that firefighters would wear in the event of an active shooter event, which came at a price tag of $36,620. Also not making the cut was the $52,400 exhaust filtration system and a $30,000 steel building to store equipment in the winter.

The trench rescue certification, training for mechanics, and training for four firefighters in physical fitness certification courses, with an expected price tag of $15,385, also wasn’t funded at this point.

For the municipal court, Jenks requested $23,600 for items that have increased, like $660 for parking for judges, $3,080 for postage, and $300 for Montana State Bar fees. So far, that’s all included for funding under the mayor’s preliminary budget.

But what she really needs is a deputy court administrator, Jenks told the budget committee on Wednesday. She noted courts in Missoula and Billings are the largest and have the highest volume in Montana.

The new position would allow her office to reorganize into two divisions covering judicial and administrative services. The judicial division would cover the needs of judges, while the administrative side is more of a public customer service and quality control effort.

Wages and benefits would total about $49,000, with additional hardware like a computer, phone and scanner putting the total at $73,569. So far, it’s included in the budget and paid for out of the city’s general fund.

She noted that with the proposed addition of six police officers this year, the court’s work is expected to increase. Jenks added that they’re also seeing a shift into an “incredibly high number” of cases involving people experiencing homelessness who are mentally ill.

“I have never seen it this bad and don’t expect it to get better,” Jenks said. “We’re seeing more severely mentally ill people, who are no longer functional. They’re delusional, violently mentally ill, and land on our doorstep. … It’s hard on staff and scary in some cases.”

It’s also increasing their workload, Jenks said, and is based in large parts to cuts in state budgets and at the state hospital in Warm Springs.

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