Twelve candidates are vying for the six open seats on the Missoula City Council in the November municipal election. In Ward 6, Nick Shontz and Sandra Vasecka are competing for the seat, and they answered the following questions from the Missoulian. Ward 6 encompasses the River Road and Franklin to the Fort neighborhoods, and part of the Two Rivers and Westside neighborhoods. One-term incumbent Michelle Cares is not seeking re-election.
1. What do you see as the best strategy for helping Missoulians who feel overburdened by property taxes, and how specifically would you work to carry that out?
Nick Shontz: Missoula’s tax revenue per capita is $547; Kalispell’s, Helena’s and Bozeman’s are even higher. It’s clear this issue affects all Montanans.
I support a tourist tax. Diversifying Missoula’s tax base by applying a targeted, voter-approved local option sales tax (limited to 3%) will let us capitalize on our city’s visitors. It would focus on items like rental cars, lodging and other tourist-centric activities. Whitefish uses this tool, and 25% of that revenue is given back to the residents as a rebate on their tax bill.
Additionally, I support legalizing recreational marijuana; successes in Washington and Colorado could be replicated here, directing those revenues to pay for Montana schools, which make up over 55% of our property tax bill.
Sandra Vasecka: There are multiple ways to relieve the property tax burden. One way is to develop a zero-based budgeting system. This means working every year to determine where our money needs to go, rather than only reviewing the increases to the previous year’s budget. Another way to relieve the burden is to end the corporate welfare. Some examples of where your property taxes have been going: $1.5 million to Stockman Bank, $3.6 million to Marriott, another $1.8 million to the same owner of the Marriott... These TIF funds need to be eliminated down to the debt service, to free up your property tax dollars to go to things a city actually needs.
2. As the city of Missoula has committed to mitigate the effects of climate change wherever it can, what specific actions would you advocate the city take?
Shontz: In the past five years we’ve seen the coldest winter in 40 years, and seasons filled with so much smoke that schools had to be relocated and businesses have lost millions of dollars. Climate Change is real, caused by humans, and we must take action.
I support the 100% Clean Electricity joint resolution and ZERO by FIFTY initiative. Accompanying the resolution, there are eight options we can focus on to achieve success. Additionally, we have to pressure our energy providers and state representatives to prioritize clean energy. I want to make recycling easier. We should work both individually to reduce waste and as a city to support and promote our partners who are making recycling and composting easier in Missoula.
Vasecka: I would advocate for more individual responsibility. Ensure your tires are properly inflated and your engine is tuned to consume less gas, use a 4-stroke motor instead of a 2-stroke motor for your jon boat, and recycle aluminum cans. As a hunter, my household consumes primarily wild game over beef, which is not only healthier, but more sustainable for our future.
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3. What is the Missoula City Council’s role in addressing the high cost of housing and child care?
Shontz: Affordable housing is housing that is within 30% of your income, and we need to align our housing options with common Missoula salaries. Then we need to promote economic growth that will bring good jobs and create more, better paying opportunities in Missoula.
We have to make Missoula more affordable, and we have to think about it not only in the short term, but for the next generation. I want a Missoula that my son not only wants to live in, but can also afford to live in.
We need to work with local partners like the university who may have under utilized space in the summer, and may see a long-term recruiting benefit by hosting low-cost summer camps.
Vasecka: If we reduce the amount of money forcibly coming out of our citizen’s pockets (property taxes, local options sales tax, etc.), our citizens will then have that extra money to go to whatever their household needs. Referring to my first answer regarding property taxes and the millions of dollars going to corporate welfare: if we hone in on our spending and allow more money to stay in our citizens' pockets, then rent, housing, and child care will become more affordable.
4. How do you view the council’s role in formulating city policy and how it intersects with the mayor’s role?
Shontz: The legislative and executive branches of the city are part of the checks and balances that make up our little slice of democracy. These elected officials, city staff and the community have to collaborate to solve the issues that Missoula is facing. Issues like housing, child care, budgeting and how we fund projects like sidewalks don’t have simple answers, and that’s why we have to work together.
No one should operate in a bubble or without collaborating with the other elected representatives, city staff, industry experts and the community. Wednesday committee meetings are a critical time to mull ideas, hash out issues and affect change so that on Monday, these negotiated policies can be voted on.
Vasecka: The City Council’s role is to serve as a check and balance on the mayor and each other. To come up with better ideas, we need to have more discussions and debates about the ideas we implement, rather than just giving the green light. I believe that bringing in fresh and individual concepts will formulate great success in city policy. For far too long has it been one-sided, and I would love to bring a positive change to our city council.