Missoula Mayor’s Budget is “Bloated” with “Handouts to Special Interests,” says City Councilman
On Wednesday, April 23, Missoula Mayor John Engen revealed his proposed budget for the city. The plan involves a 3.92 percent tax increase and a new tax district to fund police, firefighters and the courts, but not everyone is pleased with the plan.
"In ten years we've seen a 45 percent increase in taxes, while inflation has been closer to about 25 percent," said Missoula city Councilman Adam Hertz. "When the Mayor presents his budget, he largely blames it on just keeping pace with inflation, but it's simply not true. The city of Missoula's budget is bloated: it's field with pet projects, handouts to special interests and the gratuitous spending of other people's money."
When pressed to name some of the special interest handouts, Hertz said the money that went into the Missoula ballpark "bailout" was a good example. He also named Missoula Redevelopment Agency projects around the new Poverello center and throughout the town, which he says focus on pedestrian and bicyclists at a very high cost to the city.
Hertz says that the city has lost its focus and the result has driven people out of town, squeezed the tax base, and forced taxes to rise on those that choose to stay in the city.
"We can no longer afford to pay for essential city services like police and fire," Hertz said. "We've got a mayor who is willing to gamble in excess of a million dollars to condemn a private water company, but can't afford to come up with a million dollars to buy a new ladder truck. It's a matter of getting our priorities straight and, for whatever reason, the City of Missoula is just not able to do that."
One of the features of the budget plan is a proposed city-wide special taxing district to help fund, in-part, improvements at the police and fire departments. Hertz says that there is no doubt that both facilities need improvement, but that the money should come directly from the property tax base.
"It's just a matter of getting our priorities straight," Hertz said. "I think the taxpayers need to send a message to the city, not that we don't support police and fire, but that we support them as essential city services that should be covered under our property taxes, without having to create a new tax district because [the city] has spent money elsewhere."
A ballot was mailed out to all voters in the city on Wednesday, April 23, if enough voters protest, the new taxing district, they will have the opportunity to vote on the issue in the fall elections.
The budget is just a proposal at this point and still has months to go before it is finalized. Still, Hertz believes that what we see now, is likely what we'll get in the end.
"In my time on the council, the proposed budget has always looked very, very similar to the adopted budget," Hertz said. "Unfortunately, I expect that that will be the case this year."