NewsMissoula County

Actions

Engen’s executive budget invests heavily in social programs: keeps levies flat

John Engen
Posted at 2:35 PM, Aug 17, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-17 16:35:31-04

MISSOULA — Saying the new fiscal year will present unique budgeting opportunities, Missoula Mayor John Engen on Monday proposed a wide range of investments, many of which are directed at social programs around housing, wellness and homelessness.

The proposed executive budget also invests in infrastructure, including the rapidly growing Mullan area, utilities, and restoration of Rattlesnake Dam. The City Council will consider the funding requests next week.

Engen said his proposed budget would keep the city’s levies flat for the third consecutive year.

“We received our certified taxable values from the Montana Department of Revenue earlier this month, and the news was good,” Engen said. “Our tax base grew at pre-recession levels. This growth allows us to accomplish the goals we’d hoped for in the preliminary budget, and with a couple of additions in the Police Department and Parks and Recreation.”

Along with strong taxable values and an expanding tax base, the city will receive around $14 million in federal ARPA funding split over two years.

The proposed budget looks to direct the revenue to maintain and enhance essential services and address what Engen described as “critical community challenges,” including housing affordability and availability. It also looks to expand various programs around homelessness and behavioral health.

“These goals and investments are not exclusive to the day-to-day work and initiatives the City of Missoula is already engaged in,” Engen said. “Nor do they account for the fact that we may face unexpected opportunities or challenges that may require us to adapt or change these priorities over the course of the year.”

On the housing front, the proposed budget will direct around $500,000 to support the redevelopment of city-owned properties at Scott Street, West Broadway and Johnson Street. Each project would likely contain an element of affordable housing, along with other mixed-use amenities providing services and business opportunities.

Engen also proposes to adopt a program to incentivize the creation of affordable homes and direct $2.7 million of one-time funding to the city’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund. The budget also directs $850,000 over two years to overhaul the city’s regulatory codes and ensure they’re aligned with housing, transportation and green infrastructure goals.

The budget also looks to invest in health and wellness and does so by investing nearly $75,000 to continue a daycare program, $78,000 for an after-school program, and $112,000 to plan a community center at McCormick Park.

Larger amounts, including $1.1 million, would expand the Mobile Support Team and $3.5 million would go to establish a veteran's supportive housing program in partnership with the Poverello.

In total, the proposed budget expends around $7.4 million in APRA funding or about half of the $14.3 million allotted to the city over two years.

“We did lower our mills by a tiny percent,” said Liegh Griffing, the city’s financial director. “We were able to do this by the increase in taxable values. But with the (state) reappraisal year this year, it will likely result in increasing taxes for some homeowners.”

While the proposed budget invests in programs called for by vocal members of the public, others believe some proposals will commit the city to greater expenses down the road, especially as money from federal Covid relief packages dries up.

Most City Council members have kept their cards close heading into next week’s final deliberations, but members of the public have weighed in. Some believe the federal funding should go to fire and police, and not so heavily to homelessness and housing.

“When ARPA funding runs out, where are we going to get the funding to maintain that level of service?” said Bob Campbell. “It’s going to come down to general fund and taxation for those that have homes and are trying to keep in their homes.”