For the first time, the public can get involved in the Missoula city budget process through an interactive activity called the City Budget Game.

The Missoula City Council, in conjunction with City Club Missoula and some private sector sponsors, will host an interactive city budget game, on Tuesday, February 11, from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the University Center Ballroom on the University of Montana campus.

Ward four councilwoman Caitlin Copple said on Thursday, January 16, that she has worked for several years with an organization called the Every Voice Engaged Foundation in California in an attempt to bring the game to Missoula.

"Hopefully, this will be a fun, meaningful and interactive way for people to engage in the process, and get a bird's eye view of what it's like to be a councilperson making these budget decisions," Copple said. "We are training community facilitators beforehand, so that when people come to the game itself, they will be seated at tables of 10, and each table will have a facilitator to keep the discussion constructive and give everyone a chance to speak."

Copple said each table will use the game to craft a budget and come up with ideas for the city council.

"Each table will have anywhere from 12 to 20 priorities that have been generated by council members, as well as suggest their own cuts or enhancements to the budget," Copple said. "Then, they'll set about making those trade-offs and decisions, and then report back to the full group."

Copple said one city in California was able to use the budget game to influence their actual city budget.

"In San Jose, the council there used 83% of the feedback gained from the budget game to inform their actual budget," Copple said. "I'm not making any promises, but I do plan to take seriously the ideas that come out of the game, and I believe my colleagues will, as well."

Copple said the city council members are certainly allowed to attend, but will not have an active voice in the game, in an attempt to keep politics from influencing any of the discussion groups.

When asked how the council would react to groups calling for extensive cuts or reductions in the city budget, Copple said the lawmakers might not be receptive.

"Reductions will be part of the game, and something we can look at," Copple said. "But, I think the reality is that the majority of council members are not interested in cutting the budget."

Playing the game is free, and those interested are encouraged to sign up in advance, due to limited space at the discussion tables, and priority will be given to city residents.  To register, visit the website.

Ward Four City Councilor Caitlin Copple

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