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Best Way to Make City Minutiae Actually Somewhat Interesting 

Staff Pick

On Feb. 11, roughly 100 policy wonks, gadflies and people who simply like to play participated in the first-ever Missoula Budget Game. Hosted by City Councilwoman Caitlin Copple, City Club Missoula and the Every Voice Engaged Foundation, which facilitates such gatherings across the country, players were granted authority to allocate millions of dollars from a faux city general fund to use as they see fit. Copple launched the game to encourage involvement in the city’s budgeting process. In light of what can be a mind-numbing exercise, hers was a lofty goal—and it was a rousing success.

Like municipal Monopoly, locals worked in groups to fund services including police, fire and road maintenance. Some player priorities weren’t surprising, such as an emphasis on establishing broadband infrastructure and funding parks. Other suggestions seemed more far-fetched, like selling the municipal cemetery and using prison labor. Then there was the idea of generating revenue by charging for an urban deer bow-hunting permit. While communities in Virginia, Arkansas and Indiana sanction such hunts, we’re not so sure if cautious Missoulians could stomach such a measure.

While we don’t necessarily expect to see Budget Game contestants serving in city government, it’s clear the exercise did exactly what Copple hoped it would—engage the public in a fun and educational process that normally inspires little more than a shrug.

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