Martin Kidston

(Missoula Current) The Missoula City Council on Wednesday adopted new rules on how it will approach the Fiscal Year ’25 budget, including the timeline for when the process must conclude and how any amendments will be offered.

In her first budgeting season as mayor, Andrea Davis also has pushed back the delivery of her executive budget, moving it from the front of the process, as in years past, to the end to better align with the Montana Department of Revenue’s release of its taxable values.

The taxable values ultimately dictate the amount of revenue the city has to work with in the new fiscal year.

“I think it will be more effective. It will allow me to hear more feedback from council members and members of the public,” said Davis. “This will end up being a more collaborative process.”

Davis also has asked each city department to provide a comprehensive program inventory for all budget activities. That includes program attributes, risk profiles, whether a program is mandated by the state or desired by the city, and how it aligns with city’s strategic plan.

The departments next week will begin presenting their annual requests and the new approach, Davis said, will enable the city to begin building key measures based on performance and process.

“As we move forward on key performance indicators across the city and be able to manage better with data, this is a process that will help us move toward that,” Davis said. “Previous budgets have focused on new requests. These program inventories will allow us to examine and review all activities of the budget.”

Mayor Andrea Davis

Mayor Andrea Davis

The new taxable values are expected on Aug. 5 and, later that night, Davis will present her executive budget. It’s at that point that taxpayers will have a better idea of where the city’s budget stands and what sort of tax increase may be coming.

“It is what it is with the DOR. It is a quick turnaround,” Davis said. “But they (city staff) have a pretty solid estimate. We’ll be on the ready to adjust if we need to.”

In years past, the taxable values enabled the city to adjust the budget up or down. In some years, when taxable values were higher, the city needed to levy fewer mills to raise the revenue it needed to operate. In other years, it has implemented a tax increase to cover times when the values are lower.

Last year, the city raised taxes 9.7%.

City Clerk Claire Trimble said that once the taxable values are in and Davis presents her executive budget, the City Council will then begin deliberations. It will have two weeks to do so.

“This year, because it’s beginning in August, there will be two weeks for deliberation and amendments,” said Trimble. “We do have a deadline by the state to get our assessments in to the county by early September.”

The rules agreed to on Wednesday also eliminate a protracted debate to amend the budget by moving around funding or cutting or adding programs – all of which carry tax implications.

Two years ago, one council member’s push for amendments carried the meeting until 3 a.m., angering the rest of council. But the new approach details how such amendments can be made, how they’ll be funded, and when in the process it will occur.

“It’s not a good way to govern, doing it on the fly and not doing the research,” said council member Amber Sherrill. “We’re improving the system in a way that serves our constituents and be very purposeful in how we add, delete and change the budget as it comes in.”

The outline agreed to Wednesday was unanimously accepted.

“This is a really good way for us to follow the budget process in a more clear and concise way,” said council member Mirtha Becerra.

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