Missoula is getting new taxes - and new trees.

Late Monday night, the Missoula City Council voted 8-4 to approve two special maintenance districts, which bring with them new taxes for roads and parks.

The council also adopted the 2011 budget and levied taxes by the same count.

The total budget is $120.4 million. With a push from Councilman Dave Strohmaier, a wee bit of the money will go to new trees and help people pay for sidewalks.

Voting against the budget were Councilors Jon Wilkins, Lyn Hellegaard, Dick Haines and Renee Mitchell.

Opponents urged citizens to file protests against the districts, but there weren't enough to stop the taxes by a long shot.

Early in the evening, city chief administrative officer Bruce Bender said the protests amounted to 8.6 percent of the value of property in Missoula - and that's if you counted invalid ones.

If you leave the invalid ones out? Some of those, for instance, weren't from people in the city limits, and Bender said the valid protests tallied 6.77 percent.

Killing the idea of the districts for a year required more than 50 percent, so the council was free to consider the new taxes. Before the vote, many members of the public bent the ears of councilors.

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Ed Miskiv said the city was in a severe depression, and had senior citizens hit with staggering costs and thousands of people unemployed. He saw no end in sight, either.

"There's no job prospects. They can't pay their mortgages. They can't feed their children," Miskiv said. "Do you understand what you're doing here with this?"

In some ways, the conversation Monday sounded typical of others held in City Council Chambers. An activist accused the city of being corrupt - but others jumped to its defense. Some people said they trust the city to spend their tax dollars wisely - but others said the city would only run up the credit card and wouldn't listen to people's concerns.

Andrew Drobeck, though, told the council he believed they were hearing citizens loudly and clearly. The protests amounted to just 8 percent or so, after all.

"This is the outspoken minority. The majority of citizens want this and are willing to do what's necessary," Drobeck said.

From the Linda Vista area, though, Michele Hand said she already supports parks. She does so both with her pocketbook and with sweat equity.

The Hand household pays for parks four different ways, including taxes and also fees to a neighborhood association. Just one of those annual payments is $53. Plus, she helps shovel a park in her neighborhood and helped set up the basketball court.

"I'm not against parks," Hand said. "I'm against yet another way to pay for the same park."

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Together, the districts are estimated to bring in $500,000, or roughly 1 percent of the general fund. The cost to the owner of a home worth $225,000 would be an estimated $13 this year.

Even if the amount doesn't start off being a lot, several people argued the timing wasn't ripe for any new taxes.

Kim Latrielle, president and chief executive officer of the Missoula Area Chamber of Commerce board of directors, said she respectfully asked the council to not further burden businesses.

"Small businesses, the heart of any vibrant and growing community, are struggling with 10 to

40 percent drops in sales, keeping employees and cutting all possible costs in order to survive until an economic turnaround," Latrielle said in a prepared letter to the council and mayor.

The economic situation is dire, but Bill Flanery asked the council to look ahead to better times. Perhaps in the future, income from the districts could help property owners with the cost of sidewalk assessments.

"That's really not very fair when sidewalks are used by not just the property owner but by many other people as well," Flanery said.

Judy Smith, too, said the economic situation is grim, but she also knows that the city needs more revenue and she's happy to pitch in her $11.10 for parks and streets and the urban forest.

"To say that we should let them go into decline now? That doesn't make sense to me," Smith said.

Reporter Keila Szpaller can be reached at @KeilaSzpaller, 523-5262, keila.szpaller@missoulian.com or on MissoulaRedTape.com.

 

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