Missoula Council set to act on controversial budget

Posted at 6:51 AM, Aug 23, 2018
and last updated 2018-08-23 08:51:11-04

MISSOULA – The stage is set for the Missoula City Council to approve one of its most controversial budgets in years, a "hold-the-line" package based on several steps, including a 3.9% property tax increase.

The council’s Budget Committee took another swing through the 2019 spending plan on Wednesday. It’s a budget which rejects proposed new hires and services, taps the Missoula Redevelopment Agency’s Tax Increment Fund for a $2.7 million boost and brings another increase in property taxes.

It’s all to make up for a surprise shortcoming in property valuations from the state. 

While the Mayor’s Office argues the city accounts for less than a third of Missoula’s property tax bill, the proposal from Mayor John Engen has hit like a financial sonic boom with taxpayers already feeling the pinch from climbing property values and big bond issues for schools, libraries and parks.

"I don’t think anyone in any of those jurisdictions — if it were their preference — would be in the business of raising property taxes. But that’s the business we’re in if we want to continue to deliver service," Mayor Engen said.

"That’s what happened in California and that’s why we had the Prop 13 Amendment to stop raising taxes and taxing old people out of their homes," Grant Creek homeowner Gary Anderson told the council. "I have enough money, hopefully, to last me for the rest of my life, provided you don’t keep on raising property taxes. You need to have a budget and stick to it!"

"They’re the ones that are emailing us. They’re the ones that are calling us. They’re the ones that are coming to my house crying. They’re the ones — the single moms — that can not afford these tax increases," Missoula City Councilman Jesse Ramos said, "It’s the rich people that love them all. The rich people can come and go to all the parks. They love it! It’s like a country club." 

Ramos proposed a package of $2.3 million in cuts to programs ranging from parks to the arts and some employee costs but no one on the council would support his proposals.

That brings the budget to the full council for another public hearing, and a vote, which will happen on August 27th.