The regularly scheduled budget meeting of the Missoula City Council was cancelled on Wednesday due to some confusion over numbers sent by the Montana Department of Revenue with those already received by the city finance department.

Chief Administrative Officer Dale Bickell explains the delay.

“We received our certified value from the state late Friday afternoon,” said Bickell. “They were quite a bit different from what we expected. We were having trouble reconciling those numbers to the download that we got from them, so we’re working through those issues, and we didn’t have enough time between Friday and Wednesday to be able to do that, so we opted to postpone the meeting for a week so we could get the right numbers in there.”

Bickell said the numbers they received were not what city leaders were expecting.

“The state certifies the taxable value of all the properties within the city, and so we got those numbers and they were below what we had expected, but there were also some questions that we have for the DOR (Department of Revenue) to be able to reconcile those numbers and try to explain them. Because the numbers are lower, we’ll have trouble funding all the new requests.”

Bickell said by statute, the city must present the budget within 30 days of having received the current valuations from the Department of Revenue, and since the numbers came in on August 3, the new budget must be adopted by September 3. The question is will the city council have enough time between now and September 3 to look through all the correct numbers and pass the budget?

“All of the department meetings and budget requests have been being done throughout the summer, so we have completed that aspect,” he said. “What the mayor will do next week is deliver the executive budget which will incorporate all the aspects that have occurred this summer. It will show what the mayor funded and what wasn’t funded.”

Bickell said once the valuation numbers have been confirmed from the state, Mayor Engen will then plug those numbers into the executive budget for the council to approve.

Missoula City Councilor Jesse Ramos has a different view of the delay.

“When the mayor was constructing the budget he was counting on an increase in property valuations,” said Ramos. “That would mean the value of the mil would be worth more so he could take more money from the taxpayers. Unfortunately for him, and fortunately for the taxpayers, valuations did not rise because they rose so dramatically last year. That means we’re spared this year, but next year (2019) we can brace for impact because there’s probably going to be even higher property valuations.”

Ramos fears the mayor will turn to various special assessments to find the money he needs.

“I thing he’s going to try to max out every possible cent that he can out of the parks special assessment and shift most of the Parks and Recreation budget into that special assessment, and try to shift much of the street maintenance assessment into the road special assessment and then he would still be able to raise the mil levies and get more money out of the general fund because he could still raise those mil levies without depleting them with roads and parks.”

Ramos also fears that there won’t be a proper amount of time for council members to get the new budget and ask questions of the mayor and his staff in order to vote knowledgeably.

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