Missoula Internatinal Airport sign

Annexation of 3,227 acres around the Missoula International Airport was finalized Monday night, after a handful of people spoke against the proposal.

The annexed areas include the airport, Canyon Creek Village and the DeSmet School District, along with the Missoula Development Park, excluding the technology district. About 85 percent of the properties within the annexed area signed petitions to annex years ago in order to obtain municipal sewer and/or water services.

Many of those opposed to the annexation said that while they signed the petition years ago, it was under duress because of the proximity of their property to the municipal sewer system. They noted the increase in taxes in recent years due to the recent reassessments by the state — one property increased by 60 percent in the past two years — and the annexation is expected to add an additional 20 percent on top of that.

County Commissioner Jean Curtiss, who spoke as a private citizen, said the area will see no new services, but that they will just be provided by a different entity while seeing their taxes increase. That will have a negative impact on the affordable housing provided in that area. In addition, federal grants that help with down payments for homes in rural areas won't be available any more once the area is within the city limits.

"There's no reason for you to annex at this time, especially when you don't have an annexation plan and a methodical way to annex," Curtiss said.

The annexation is expected to bring an additional $1 million in tax dollars annually into the city, but the costs to provide services to the area — like police and fire — also are expected to increase by about $700,000.

Councilor Julie Armstrong said that's something she just can't support at this time. She noted that the $300,000 offset doesn't address the lower levels of service that could be incurred by fire, police and streets spread more thinly across a larger area.

"Just because we can doesn't mean we should," Armstrong said. "I have a lot of angst in many areas. We're not close to perfect on this and not even close to good."

But Mayor John Engen said it's a matter of equity, with everyone paying for shared services they benefit from by being adjacent to the city.

"They have been getting a bargain, enjoying all of the benefits associated with the city of Missoula at a bargain rate," Engen said. "They bought into sewer and now into water. The fact of the matter is this is an opportunity for those people to pay their fair share."

The measure passed 10-1, with Armstrong in opposition and Jesse Ramos abstaining.

While the property taxes in the annexed area are expected to increase, they won’t have to pay assessments for rural fire and county roads, and may see lower insurance premiums due to Missoula’s fire rating.

The cost of providing fire services to the area is estimated at between $95,000 and $143,000. Missoula Fire Department Chief Jeff Brandt writes that the new annexation will provide opportunities and unique challenges for the department, including taking on primary responsibility for the airport and smoke jumper base.

It’s estimated that the already understaffed police department eventually will need to increase its budget by about $667,000, which would include three additional officers, two additional vehicles, and two “civilian support specialists” in the records department to provide the same level of services to the newly annexed areas. However, when city officials looked at providing service to the area with current staff, using data based only on the number of calls for service, the anticipated budget increase drops to $282,400.

Last year, about 1,000 calls for service on a wide range of suspected crimes took place there. Of those, about 100 may have been felonies — including sex offenses, burglary and stolen vehicles — that may need some type of follow-up investigation.

Expanding Street Division responsibilities for the annexed area will result in lower levels of service for the entire city under current budget limitations, according to a staff report, and will come with an increased cost of $168,000.

The impacts to the parks department are estimated at $47,000.

Dale Bickell, the city’s chief financial officer, previously estimated that of the additional tax dollars, $120,700 would go to the road district and $60,000 to the park district. An additional $665,000 would go into the general fund coffers, which funds the police and fire departments.

Bickell had said providing these types of city services will be a heavy lift initially, but noted the city has plans in place to help cover some of these issues into the future. Council member Jordan Hess added that this annexation represents a good planning process and will allow the city more control over future growth, including land use and traffic.

DeSmet School District Principal Matt Driessen remains concerned that zoning on a portion of the school property that’s included in the annexation — about 20 acres — will limit the school’s ability to survive. The DeSmet School District formed in 1890, serving rural students and the families of railroad workers, according to Driessen, the elementary school’s principal. Throughout the years, however, the airport and other industrial development grew up around the school. Some children from Canyon Creek Village attend DeSmet, while others are in the Hellgate district.

The city designated the school-owned property — 13 acres of the school complex and seven acres of residential — as a “light industrial” zone that would allow for development of up to 43 dwelling units per acre. The rest of the mainly vacant property around the school is zoned light industrial.

Some business owners voiced concerns for safety with having homes near industrial business.

"We support zoning that keeps the two separate," one business owner said. "We don't want industrial enterprises going in next to houses, and houses going in next to industrial enterprises."

Driessen wanted to see the school property zoning attached to all the land near the school, just to provide an option for additional residences on non-school district properties. He’s talked to business owners in the area who would support additional housing there for their employees, and Driessen also sees this as a great location for entry-level homes.

He believes the city is overstepping its boundaries by imposing its will on the school district, which is a separate governmental entity, while noting the city has an obligation to protect the district’s fiduciary interests.

Mike Haynes, the city’s Development Services director, countered that nothing the city is proposing has an impact on the school district, except for allowing what already has occurred with the mixed use zoning. He believes allowing for up to 43 units per acre on the school property is a compromise on the city’s part.

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