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Are you looking at changing the budget process? Is the current system broken? How so?

Missoula’s current mayor has said he will raise taxes every year he is in office and has publicly proclaimed himself “mayor for life.” This is not something any of us can afford — and clearly it is a statement made with a lack of financial planning, responsibility or forecasting on behalf of the Missoula community. (Editor’s note: Mayor John Engen denies saying he wanted to be “mayor for life,” at least not in a serious context.)

We need to prioritize our spending and exercise fiscal accountability. Our city budget continues to grow year after year without fail, and as we’ve been promised, so do our taxes. We must get a handle on the out-of-control spending, and we need leadership that prioritizes fiscal responsibility.

The recently passed budget for next year has little maintenance funding for parks, trails, the new pedestrian bridge, or the Jail Diversion Master Plan. We seem to be in a pattern of building without ensuring the funding is there to maintain the infrastructure.

The primary goal here is to find a way to prioritize projects and either maintain or decrease property taxes. All of the projects do not need to be done at once — and we don’t have to jump at every federal dollar offered so that we have to spend money to save money. 

I would like to initiate a financial and functional audit of the budget so we can determine if there are areas where we can improve productivity and eliminate wasteful spending. Rather than coming to the table with an automatic increase, I would like to see budget projections in three scenarios: a 3-5 percent increase with solid justifications for the increases like improving basic services, a zero-increase maintain as is, and a 5-7 percent decrease scenario based on audit results.

Optimally, we would be able to utilize one of the latter two, with the goal being to return some of the savings to the citizens of Missoula through lower property taxes and make Missoula affordable again. We need to work within the limits of the budget, doing more with what we have, cutting the waste, and aiming for a 100 percent return on investment on every dollar spent.

On top of that, the city has seen a growth rate of about 1,000 new residents a year. This should mean a larger tax base and therefore a reduction in taxes, city Chief Administrative Officer Dale Bickell told the Missoulian in June 2017. Yet the proposed 2017 budget said otherwise, and only when development/construction tax money from the state came in did the city say that increase would be a decrease. Reliance on development/construction taxes to minimize taxes isn’t sustainable. 

Here is an example that concerns me greatly. On July 24, 2017, the City Council unanimously passed a budget resolution totaling around $184 million.  When a fiscally concerned citizen was looking for the signed resolution, they were given a copy of the 'corrected' resolution, dated September 11, 2017, with the budget amount jumping to approximately $209 million — simple math shows this as an increase of around $25 million — which seems more like a $25 million increase rather than a mere "correction." (Editor's note: An error by city staff made it appear as though $25 million was added to the budget.)

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Government reporter for the Missoulian.