MISSOULA - This edition of Current Events with the editor of the Missoula Current, Martin Kinston, takes an in-depth look at how the Missoula city budget is shaping up.
"Well, the budget kicked off, officially this week — the early budgeting process. They're kind of getting a sense of how the last year went financially, and what the next year might look like financially. So there's a long road to go," Kidston said. "It's going to be a very contentious and difficult budgeting season."
Rising inflation has been hitting everyone, and will have an impact on Missoula's budget plans.
"Yeah. It's just like you and I and most people in Missoula...they're facing a crisis as well by the rising cost of good services, materials labor, everything that everybody else feels, they feel it as well. And it's going to be a stretch to cover those increases while maintaining all the services," Kidston explained. "So. there'll be some difficult choices most likely this budgeting season.
The rising cost of living in Missoula is impacting many people, including those who work for the City of Missoula.
"A lot of the city workers are under unions and the city has to honor those union contracts. And every year, the union fights for a wage increase for its employees and every year, the city negotiates, and essentially, the wage will increase. How much we don't know," Kidston said.
Anytime a city spends additional money, the issue of tax increases comes up, including in Missoula.
"There will possibly be a tax increase this year. Revenue is short. They could look at some cuts, a lot of programs, they're going to be fighting over, we're started by ARPA, and so they don't have to worry about that funding at the time. But now the ARPA money is dried out," Kidston noted. "How does the city and the county backfill, those costs to maintain those services? So that's going to be an interest.
The Missoula police and fire departments have implemented a lot of new services — and the proposed crisis levy was turned down by voters — which could lead the departments to seek more money in their budgets.
"Both the city police department and the fire department are...in a similar situation because of the crisis levy that failed. Last November that funding would have provided the funding. They need to run the Mobile Support Team, the Crisis Intervention Team — a lot of the services that people are [beginning to see] the importance of," Kidston said. "But how do you fund that in the absence of federal funding? It's going to be a critical choice and some things may follow by the wayside."
Difficult decisions about what the City of Missoula does and does not fund in the coming budget are going to have to be made.
"So that now that they've gone through this process of hearing the concerns, they'll begin [the process]," Kidston said. "They'll probably pay for some of it. And some of it, they won't pay for it. It happens every year. And there's a lot to it and it goes on for several months," Kidston concluded.