City Council Still Waiting to Hear How Most Recent Budget Error Will Impact City Services
During his election bid, Missoula City Council member Jesse Ramos was a vocal critic of the $25 million dollar “accounting error” discovered by a local citizen in the city budget. Now that he is in office, Ramos has a front row seat to Missoula’s most recent error, one that has already led to dramatic cuts in the city’s rainy day fund and was presented to the council on December 20th.
"The mayor issued a memorandum to the council members and all of us were caught off guard, not just the new folks, but, I'm pretty sure, a lot of the folks that were already sitting on the council were caught off guard as well," Ramos said. "The error, from what I understand was due to a misallocation of Capital Project Improvement accounts. It sounds like there was some overspending that happened in the parks department and the road department."
Now sworn into office, Ramos and the other council members don’t seem to have much say on how the Capital Improvement Program error will be corrected. Mayor John Engen wrote in his memorandum (see bottom of page) that the city “needs to reallocate about $3 million dollars” and goes on to say that the correction to this error “does not require council action.” Ramos says he’s suspicious about the process the city is taking to correct its mistake and fears the public will have to pay for it.
"From what I understand, there are going to be cutbacks," Ramos said. "I met with some of the folks from the Parks and Rec department and they were talking about some of the ways they were going to make up for this error. Also, we are going to be taking funds out of our rainy day fund, which is going to be a huge impact because we need those funds, they try to keep a certain amount of money within that reserve fund and they are going to need to replace that and I'm hoping that doesn't come from increased taxes next year."
Engen wrote in his memorandum “while I’d much rather we were building cash reserve than spending it, rainy day funds are for rainy days. And it’s raining.” On top of the over two million dollars pulled from the so-called rainy day fund, hundreds of thousands of dollars have been shifted from the Parks Department and the Roads department and council members say they are still waiting to hear what services will be impacted. The errors were reportedly found in early November, but weren’t reported to council until late December. It is unclear if they were discovered before or after Election Day. Ramos says the only impact he’s heard of so far, is that the parks department would be doing less maintenance on city boulevards.