It’s the economy, stupid 

Four years ago, John Engen stood before a Missoula Area Chamber of Commerce luncheon and told the audience that Missoula is a great place to live, work and raise families.

On Tuesday, as he and County Commissioner Bill Carey delivered separate State of Missoula addresses to a packed banquet room at the Missoula Doubletree, Engen touched on that same theme—although the mayor admitted the current economy has changed things.

“It may not be that way every day, in every way, for every one of us,” he said, “but generally, we’ve chosen to live in a wonderful place.”

Both Engen and Carey reserved the bulk of their speeches to pass around ataboys to various county and city departments. Vicki Zeier of the Missoula County Elections Office, for example, successfully negotiated the most chaotic Election Day in recent memory, registering more than 1,000 voters on Nov. 4. At the city level, Finance Director Brentt Ramharter helped bump Missoula’s credit rating up to AA, and the city’s financial assessment is strong, according to Standard and Poors.

“Translated, that means we have an excellent line of credit,” Engen said. “If you’ve noted recent headlines, that’s a big deal.”

Despite the optimism, both Engen and Carey tempered their addresses with the reality of the economic crisis. Although a 2008 survey showed 81 percent of residents rate the quality of life in Missoula as excellent or good, Carey said 30,000 of the county’s 107,000 residents are underserved medically.

Nearly all of the questions after the address focused on the economy as well.

“Are you willing to cut impact fees for new houses?” one attendee asked.

Carey said the county doesn’t collect impact fees, but the city does  and Engen didn’t hesitate to offer an answer.

“I don’t think the public good should be sacrificed when times are tough,” he said.
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