There are two kinds of priorities in local government: those that get funded and those that don’t.
So when a help-wanted ad appeared in the July 31 Missoulian seeking a new part-time neighborhood liaison to help coordinate Missoula’s neighborhood councils and their work with the city, it was clear to anyone tuned into local government that neighborhood councils are not likely among this year’s funded priorities.
The City Council is in the midst of creating next year’s city budget and will hold a public hearing Monday, Aug. 7, before formally approving it. But at a July 19 committee meeting on the budget, a glimpse of what’s likely to come appeared in the form of two brief discussions, after which members voted against expanding the neighborhood liaison position to full-time and voted against funding a new Neighborhood Council.
Neighborhood liaison Ruth Anderson, who tenured her resignation following the committee’s vote but will finish out the month of August, according to City Clerk Marty Rehbein, was not available for comment by press time.
Over the last year, the fate of neighborhood councils has been a frequent topic of discussion among government aficionados, who say underfunding of the neighborhood decision-making bodies has undermined their existence.
The Missoula City Local Government Study Commission, in its tentative report, strongly recommended expanding the neighborhood liaison position to full-time after hearing that the job was already effectively such. They’ve also recommended expanding the budgets of neighborhood councils themselves, which currently survive on a meager $800 per year each.
Council President Ed Childers explains that money is stretched exceedingly thin around City Hall these days and that expanding the neighborhood position didn’t seem like a must.
Ward 5’s Jon Wilkins, long a staunch advocate of neighborhood councils, anticipates hearing from neighborhood council representatives at the Aug. 7 budget hearing. But even he says Council’s will won’t likely bend.
“I’m not holding out too much hope,” he says.