We are on an untenable path in Missoula. We have a structural imbalance in the city, as the mayor said our expenses outpace our revenues. However much we hear about a broken tax system at the state level, we need to consider our local budget process as well. Property taxes are almost the only tax revenue local governments collect, which means the burden of funding our services such as police, fire, roads, and even sewer primarily fall on residential properties in Missoula. With no change to our system in sight, Missoula needs to prepare for a long conversation over the next year of wants versus needs and recognize that will almost certainly mean cuts to programs and services popular with some. 

In Missoula, we have a strong mayor system, which means the mayor is the head of the administration and oversees all city departments. Each year the mayor submits their budget to the council for adoption. Changes can be made at the council level, but the structural changes we are staring at head-on need to originate well before that point, with the mayor prioritizing slower tax growth and proceeding accordingly with what does or does not make the Mayor’s budget well before it is submitted to the council. 

To be sure, the budget I voted for last night contains many good things, including:

  • Updated body camera technology and equipment for our police officers to provide safety and accountability for everyone and make evidence collection more modern and efficient.
  • Approval of union-bargained contracts that help our hard-working employees with the growing costs of living in Missoula.
  • Necessary funding for the Mobile Response Team to meet the challenges of mental health assistance in emergency situations. 

I voted for the budget to keep our basic services functioning, to support fire and police and make sure someone responds timely when you call 911. We must balance this with the absolute truth that many Missoulians are struggling, wages have not kept up with inflation, and home values have surged beyond any other growth.

In Missoula, we need to overhaul our budgeting process to more critically examine current spending and provide the council with the necessary information to explore cuts alongside increases.  Cutting spending by a set amount does not have to hit every department or initiative the same. That is where evaluating what success is and measuring outcomes come into play. As mayor, I will be committed to starting the budget process earlier, allowing the council to weigh in on priorities before I submit my final budget for consideration. 

Further, you should expect a significant opportunity to participate in our budgeting when I am mayor:

  • I will implement a Priority Based Budgeting approach to our city budget, identifying programs that offer the highest value to our residents and fund them appropriately, while reducing or eliminating service levels of areas outside our identified priorities.
  • The community, not simply the mayor and council, need to help guide our priorities.
  • I am committed to a zero-based budgeting process for every city department at least once in a four-year term. 
  • I will ask departments to submit areas for potential cuts, or spending changes alongside any new spending requests and be transparent with the council on those recommendations.

Fighting off a 9.7% spending increase is not going to happen with line item cuts on the council floor. That is structural and will only happen with a changed approach to building the budget administratively. Everywhere I have been – private, public, and non-profit – there have been times we were forced to cut spending, to evaluate existing programs, to hold positions open, and even make cuts when revenues decreased. 

We have serious challenges ahead of us. We cannot afford everything we are doing. Priorities change, needs change, and programs once crucial may have run their course. Leadership is about recognizing when we aren’t doing something as well as we could and embracing the opportunity to improve. It won’t be easy, but together we can make good things happen for Missoula. 

Mike Nugent


-UM Grad-Missoula Native- -Moderately Progressive Politics & Griz Sports- If you're following for anything work related, prepare for disappointment. #nowork