Finally, something juicy. The usually serene meetings of Missoula’s City Council—full of nothing but productivity and niceties the last few months—are about to showcase, at last, some honest, heated debate. And no, we’re not talking chickens.

It’s budget time, and council’s starting to look and sound like we do when we’re forced to balance our checkbook at the end of the month. At last report, Mayor John Engen’s budget comes in $367,000 over what’s in the city’s piggybank. While some council members are hopeful that shortfall will shrink when the Montana Department of Revenue crunches its numbers (again), others understand that some belt-tightening is in order.

And perhaps now is the ideal time. After all, just last week, AARP Magazine named Missoula among the skinniest towns in the nation. Engen himself has dropped 115 pounds in the last year, down to a studly 314, which puts him in a perfect position to preside over budget slimming. In fact, he even connected the two stories when speaking to the Missoulian about the AARP article, saying, “We do a lot of things within our city budgets each year that are designed to help people be healthy and really enjoy the place.”

Looking forward, maybe not so much. As the Indy went to press, council members were already suggesting possible cuts to city spending. In addition, Engen floated the idea of keeping the budget as-is and raising property taxes 4.8 percent to erase the shortfall. Ouch. If that’s the case, we’re going to start hosting block parties, plastering band stickers on the wood siding of our house and maybe ask Whitefish billionaire Bill Foley to open up a chain restaurant next door, and see if we can get our blighted street marked as an urban renewal district. You know, so all our increased property taxes funnel right back to us for building improvements. We hear that tax trick’s all the rage now, like shabby chic interior design. 

More likely, it won’t come to that. Instead, we’ll watch anxiously as our dutiful and polite civil servants ditch the property tax proposal and penny-pinch their way into balance. Things may get contentious. Someone could send a pithy, partisan e-mail that ruffles a council member’s feathers, or a loquacious teenage swimmer could elegantly bemoan how the council’s budget decisions crushed her very soul. Or it could be bigger than those blips on City Council’s otherwise calm radar. Either way, we’re anxious to see how this council faces its first real challenge.
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