A city health inspector found live bedbugs, rodent feces, strong odors and yellow tap water at a motel the City of Missoula is looking to purchase.
The Missoula City Council is considering a plan Monday night in which the Missoula Redevelopment Agency would spend $1.1 million in Tax Increment Financing to buy the Sleepy Inn Motel for temporary use as a coronavirus quarantine shelter. The city's plan is to sanitize the facility before use and then allow people with families or homeless individuals to stay there if they have or are suspected to have COVID-19. In the long run, the city intends to use the property for low-income housing, which could include razing the current structure.
A city environmental health inspector, Michael Dorshorst, submitted a report last month on the 15 out of 33 rooms he was able to inspect because they were unoccupied.
"Several rooms, especially 134, have a severe biological odor emanating from inside them," he wrote. "It may be sewer, mold, decaying pests, other, or combination of some or all."
He found 15 total violations, including tap water that ran yellow for several minutes in rooms. He didn't know the cause, but recommended testing.
"Guest laundry had live bedbugs, other insects and rodent feces," he wrote. "Bedbug carcasses were found in some of the rooms, as well as insects and other rodent feces, on the mattresses and flooring."
He found a padlocked room next to the laundry room, which the on-site manager told him the owner forbids anyone from entering.
"Not being able to access this room, alone, is a violation of state rules not to mention what other violations there may be within the room," the inspector wrote.
He found multiple layers of vinyl and carpet had been laid on top of older layers, trapping multiple layers of mold, debris and moisture and providing harbor and attraction for pests.
He saw broken, unstable or exposed wiring and outlets in some rooms.
"There is filth piled deeply under the stairs leading into the mechanical room," he said.
The full report is attached to this story online at Missoulian.com.
Last week, Missoula Redevelopment Agency director Ellen Buchanan said city staff toured the motel and said it was in better condition than they hoped for.
Over the weekend, Mayor John Engen submitted a letter to the Missoula City Council defending the city's desire to purchase the property.
"Staff has engaged in weeks of due diligence, inspecting the facility, understanding how operations could work, identifying security options and risks, evaluating sanitation, understanding what furniture and fixtures could be re-used, evaluating our ability to be reimbursed through the Federal Emergency Management Agency and completing a health order that reflects the best practices around the country," Engen wrote.
The city has said it will thoroughly sanitize the facility before use. "The items in that email will be addressed before anyone is ever going to be sheltered there," said Cindy Farr, the City-County Health Department's incident commander for the coronavirus pandemic, during her Monday internet briefing.
"If we were not in a public-health emergency, I’d be willing to accept suggestions we slow down, but I believe the fact of the matter is that there’s not more critical information to be found to support our assertion that this is the right thing to do," Engen said. "We’re not going to violate our own guidelines for safety by putting staff and residents at risk by inspecting currently occupied units when we know the the floor plans and general condition of the facility through our inspections of more than half of the units that have recently been occupied."
City council members Jesse Ramos, Sandra Vasecka and John Contos last week criticized the city's decision not to have a formal commercial property appraisal done on the property.
"If we seek an appraisal, which will take at least weeks, the advice we’ve received from an appraiser and two commercial real-estate agents tells us that the price is what the market demands," Engen said. "And the idea that a sale price from six years ago, before the downtown Missoula boom began, is valid, doesn’t cut it for me. Further, the idea that real-estate of any kind sells at the value state appraisers apply for tax purposes is a fantasy."
Engen is right about the difference between taxable values and market values. The Missoulian has investigated property sales in the area and found that sales prices are often much higher than their assessed property value.
In a letter criticizing the purchase price, Ramos had noted that the taxable value of the motel is about $400,000 lower than the purchase price.
"We can take another week, or two or three and the facts before us don’t change much, with one exception: we could have a surge in infected unsheltered people and have nowhere to put them but on the street and out in the community to fend for themselves," Engen said. "There, first responders will be default field medics, risking their lives and those of colleagues, family, friends and the community. That’s not a risk I’m willing to take. If we want to re-open our lives, we need to contain this virus."
Engen said the owner isn't interested in temporarily renting the motel, and also noted that the city's experts say they'd be hard-pressed to find any motel where there hasn't been illicit drug use.
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