MISSOULA — Missoula city and county leaders are watching closely to see how the state of Montana dolls out roughly $1.2 billion in funding from the coronavirus economic relief package passed by Congress earlier this year.
With the budget season quickly approaching, receipt of the funding could determine whether the city and county can hold the line on their new fiscal year budget.
“My strategy here has been to hold budgets where they are,” Mayor John Engen said. “Barring some really unforeseen challenges, I think we can do that. But it’s always hard to budget when you don’t know what you’re revenues are.”
Montana’s congressional delegation has been clear in saying that CARES Act funding received by the state must “make it out of Helena to local governments and that local governments have the flexibility to use those resources” to meet community needs.
Local governments across the state, who also have been financially impacted by the pandemic and the resulting economic shutdown, are watching closely to see how the state distributes the funding.
“I’ve got a preliminary look at the FY 21 (budget), but it doesn’t have a great deal of meaning until I understand the revenue side,” Engen said. “I think we’ll have a much greater understanding, we’re hearing, at the end of this week or early next, in regards to CARES Act.”
The Bozeman City Commission also will know more about its financial losses over the next month as it begins its own budgeting process. City officials there have noted the potential impacts stemming from the virus, according to the Bozeman Daily Chronicle.
Missoula County officials are also waiting to hear the results of this months’ property tax payments, which were due on June 1. for those who don’t rely on escrow. The outcome there, combined with the results of this year’s centrally assessed property payments, could have an impact on the FY 21 budget.
“We have high hopes that people who are paying their property taxes, and not through escrow but having to make a payment on June 1, would have been able to so,” said Commissioner Josh Slotnick. “But we’ll know soon enough.”
During the economic shutdown, fuel prices plummeted as demand dwindled. State officials have said that will have an impact on Montana’s revenues from gas taxes. A portion of those taxes are funneled to local jurisdictions, who use them for street maintenance and other public works projects.
Missoula County voters this week approved an additional 2-cent local option fuel tax, though it doesn’t take effect until later this year. City and county officials hope the measure’s passages signals a change of mind among voters who may now be looking for outside revenue to provide relief to local property owners.
“Maybe they’re willing to be creative about other alternatives to property tax,” Slotnick said. “I’m really hoping this opens the gate to have a larger discussion on local option and other things we can do to get our tourism to help pay for some of the infrastructure they enjoy.”