Ward 4 includes the Southgate Triangle, Lewis & Clark, South Hills and Pattee Canyon neighborhoods. Longtime representative Jon Wilkins is defending his seat against Chris Badgley, Jesse Ramos and Greg Strandberg.
1. What is one positive aspect and one negative aspect of your ward? What would you do to change the negative? How would you foster more of the positive?
Jon Wilkins: A positive: It’s not just any family building, but it’s also apartment buildings, rentals and I think that’s positive. We have all kinds of people. The negative right now is cars driving too fast on the streets. We could try to put traffic circles in, but it’s up to the people to want that. If they do, I would help with that.
Chris Badgley: Ward 4 is populated by a diverse, engaged and caring citizenry. We need to make sure everyone has a voice in the future of Missoula, including voting and participating in local decisions. Unfortunately, working families find it challenging to acquire a home in the area. Without pricing people out of the neighborhood, we need to preserve the wonderful amenities we enjoy, such as quality schools, safe transportation options for kids and adults, and parks and other open spaces.
Jesse Ramos: What I like most about my ward is that the neighborhood character is well preserved. While traveling down the street you see children playing in the streets and in yards, families gathering for dinner around 6 o’clock in the evening, neighborhood block parties, etc. To foster more of this, I would oppose accessory dwelling units and excessive infill. One negative that I often hear is that many of the side streets don’t receive much plowing in the winter, creating hazardous situations. To improve this, I would look for new and innovative ways to utilize qualified city employees that maybe aren’t as busy in the winter due to the snow.
Greg Strandberg: I can’t think of any positives, perhaps because taxes have gone up 95 percent over the past 12 years, the city’s $250 million in debt, and our young people have to continually move out of the state to find decent jobs.
2. Is there a way to change the current budgeting process to better benefit citizens?
Wilkins: This one kind of stumped me. All I can think of is trying to make it transparent. How? I’m not sure. Make it easier for the common citizen to read it.
Badgley: The city budget should be transparent and available to any residents of the city, including line items. There must also be a way to offer suggestions without sitting through a council meeting. We need to anticipate growth and provide carefully designed infrastructure to maintain our world-class city.
Ramos: Analyzing budgets and making sure they have the proper balance between necessary and luxurious spending is what I do for a living. Upon analyzing Missoula’s budgets and doing a comprehensive cost analysis I have concluded that the biggest mistake the council and the mayor make is either a lack of planning for future costs and/or dramatically underestimating costs on virtually every project they approve. Due to this, our budget never balances without implementing a higher property tax year after year. I have unique experience in handling comprehensive budgets (similar to the city’s) and I hope to have the opportunity to put this knowledge to work for Missoula citizens.
Strandberg: The most important thing for Missoula’s future is to vote out the rubber-stamp city councilors that continue to follow Engen’s drunk-minded prescription for the city, which seems to be long-term financial ruin.
3. What are your thoughts on restriping proposed by the Fifth and Sixth streets study and the Higgins Avenue study — is there a better way to serve all modes of transportation on some of our busiest streets?
Wilkins: Leave it alone. Same with Higgins Avenue. I think they’re functioning and I think changing them disrupts business. Our downtown is so vibrant, but it’s really fragile.
Badgley: Missoula is known as a bicycle-friendly town, but until we designate entire streets or one half of certain streets (thoughtfully chosen) to other modes of transportation, we are not encouraging alternative travel as much as we could. Striping Fifth and Sixth may increase safety of non-motorized travel, but that alone is not a complete solution. Modeling successes of like-sized cities is one more way for Missoula to make the best choices the first time. For our safety, my daughter and I cycle on side streets rather than major throughways.
Ramos: I cannot state strongly enough how opposed I am to removing driving lanes from our city streets. In what world is our traffic situation in Missoula manageable or efficient enough to justify proposals like the removal of driving lanes on Fifth, Sixth and Higgins? These streets are important arterial streets for vehicle travel. We can make them safe and efficient for drivers, bikers and walkers without pitting different modes of transportation against each other. So-called “diets” have already been attempted in Missoula and produced disastrous results, and my hope is that we learn from our mistakes.
Strandberg: Wow, what a stupid idea! Folks, let’s face it — most of us drive. I know a lot of people ride bikes, and that’s great — I did it for 5 years while going to school … winter included. But bike riders aren’t paying to fix our roads. You are. Let’s use some common sense here — fix our potholes, plow the side streets and cater to the majority of Missoulians for a change.
4. What are your views on the city’s recent purchase of two private entities — Mountain Water Company and EKO Compost — and subsequent promises to invest heavily to upgrade them, ultimately bettering services for the community. Is this the job of the city, or is it overreaching?
Wilkins: I’ve felt for a long time that we’ve needed to own our own water. I have to admit I was shocked at the final price, but I think it will be good for Missoulians and good for our future. As far as EKO Compost goes, we’re actually saving some money, because the sewer plant was paying a bunch of money for taking our sludge and now it doesn’t have to. I mean the compost company was put out for bids and we were the only ones who bid it. And hopefully we control the smell.
Badgley: Missoula’s purchase of Mountain Water was regrettably expensive, but in the long run the acquisition of our own water system will be a strategic benefit for Missoulians for generations to come. By not managing the system for the profit of investors we, as a public entity, will invest money to take care of the water delivery infrastructure, and work to lower customer bills over time.
Similarly, the purchase of EKO Compost will allow the city to control a key service in maintaining the Garden City instead of paying a private entity.
Ramos: I don’t think many people would disagree that it is the right of a city to own its water company. However, I do question the aggressive nature and the timing in which it was done in Missoula. Mountain Water provided water for years with few complaints from Missoula citizens. They also provided thirty to forty jobs to Missoula citizens and I think were unfairly demonized in order to justify the city’s outrageous legal expenses. In general, I am very opposed to the city taking over private enterprise as they recently tried to do by selling cemetery monuments. The government’s role is not to compete with the private sector but to create an environment in which the private sector can thrive.
Strandberg: With EKO, Missoula once again acquired a private business, this time at a cost of $3 million. Plans are to inject $4 million of additional taxpayer money into that business.
With Mountain Water … gosh, I’m getting the same water out of my tap today that I was when I first moved here as an impoverished student in 2001. What did we pay for? Oh yeah … that’s right — peace of mind and the ability to one-up a global corporation. Hey, if you want to pay through the wazoo in taxes for the next 30 years for that … great. But I’ve still got the same water comin’ out of my tap as I did years ago.
5. Affordable housing is a near-constant concern in Missoula. What can (or should) the city do to help make housing more affordable?
Wilkins: The only way you get affordable housing in Missoula is to subsidize it, which means the taxpayers are helping out. We do things like that now, but there’s hardly any money. I don’t think I would be in favor of that, but I see that as the only way. Otherwise it’s market-driven. I think the city could also charge less in fees: in permitting fees, in building permits.
The other thing is: if you’re going to have prices like that for housing, you’ve got to raise wages.
Badgley: As a residential builder, I am constantly confronted with the difficulties of providing sufficient affordable housing for working-class families. Missoula has several good people focusing their efforts on this issue. Groups such as Missoula Housing Authority, HomeWORD, and the Office of Housing and Community Development are working to help folks find a pathway to dignity. City Council must listen, learn, and use tools such as zoning and tax structure to increase the availability of affordable housing. Public/private partnerships should also be maximized to support affordability. Small houses also show promise in the advantages of density and affordability.
Ramos: According to local contractors I’ve spoken with, the cost of housing is a direct result of the lack of new supply, which has been artificially constrained by government regulations, fees and permitting. There is a direct impact between two main things that the city has control over — property taxes on existing homes and impact fees on building new homes. Housing will never be affordable in Missoula if our city leaders don’t truly prioritize affordability. So far, city leaders have given affordable housing great lip service without actually putting their money where their mouths are.
Strandberg: Raise wages. Unfortunately, we have a coterie of small business owners (and corporate behemoths) that refuse to do this, instead relying on near-wage-slave conditions for the U students dumb enough to both come here to get an education and to take on these menial jobs. Local business owners benefit in having a constant supply of desperate workers to prop up their own desperate desire to get out of the rat race already. It’s a big reason Missoula has been stagnant for the past 30 years. The time for new ideas was years ago, but we were too stupid and blind to realize it.
6. Missoula’s full of outdoors opportunities and killer restaurants and breweries. What’s your favorite outdoor activity in town and where’s your favorite place to get food or a drink afterwards?
Wilkins: My favorite outdoor activity is watching baseball, from Little League to watching the Mavericks, to the Osprey, all three of them.
The restaurants I like, in the ward, are The Keep, the Iron Griz and the one out of the ward is the Montana Club.
Badgley: Some of the reasons my daughter and I love Missoula are because we can afford to ride bicycles, hike, ski and play in our open spaces and clean environment, like all Missoulians. Places you may see us include The Shack, The Missoula Club, Big Dipper, Drum Coffee, The Top Hat and the Roxy. We enjoy floating the Clark Fork, swimming at Splash, playing in various parks, and catching fish at Silver’s Lagoon.
Ramos: One of the joys of living in a city as culturally diverse as Missoula is the fact that I don’t have to choose one particular place and can easily visit two or three venues in a single evening.
Strandberg: I made $17,000 last year, so we don’t eat out much. I used to like the $2 slices at Pizza Pipeline, now we go to the Bridge … $3. I expect we’ll eat out a whole lot less when Mayor John Engen gets his local-option sales tax. God, the city is desperate for your money. Why?