Twelve candidates are vying for the six open seats on the Missoula City Council in November's municipal election. In Ward 3, one-term incumbent Gwen Jones is defending her seat from newcomer Drew Iverson, and they answered the following questions from the Missoulian. Ward 3 encompasses the Riverfront neighborhood and most of the University District and Rose Park neighborhoods.
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?
Jones: As I have consistently stated throughout my campaign, our local government and schools need a more diverse tax base. Historically Missoula had a more diverse tax base, but as industries have waned and the state Legislature pares back sources of revenue, our tax base has been narrowed, shifting the burden to commercial and residential property taxes. Simultaneously, federal and state cuts push more costs down to the local level.
Partnering with other leaders from Montana cities and towns to effectively communicate with the legislature is the next step I can take as a city councilor. Having more tools from the Legislature such as the possibility of a tourist tax to tap tourist dollars would mitigate our rising property taxes.
Iverson: A lot of the connection I see when it comes to lowering property taxes is the way how the City Council budget their funds. The City Council needs to be people focused not agenda focused. For example, Gwen Jones and The Mayor partnered up and spent $51,000 on Primaries just think how much that could of helped the locals with roads, sidewalks, or snow removal. They also proposed an Open Space bond and City Mill levy last year to spend $15 million dollars that will raise property taxes.
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?
Jones: City Council has created ambitious climate mitigation goals and policies; we are now implementing them. The next step to implement the ZERO by FIFTY Waste Reduction Policy is to complete the baseline waste study which will give us specific information to reduce, reuse and recycle more efficiently. The City and County’s Clean Electricity Initiative triggers the discussion to partner with NorthWestern Energy to create a Shared Clean Energy Agreement, based on the model Utah and other states have used with their investor owned utilities. Finally, supporting the plastic bag ordinance that Councilors Stacie Anderson and Heidi West are sponsoring is yet another specific action to make Missoula greener.
Iverson: Even though I don’t agree with climate change I am flexible in having a clean environment by advocating to have more green can recycling bins and solar energy installation. The technology is growing and there are consumers that want to buy which creates a market that can bring in investors and according to the Montana Department of Environment Quality, Montana has 26% greater than the national average of solar source.
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3. What is the City Council’s role in addressing the high cost of housing and child care?
Jones: The City’s Housing Policy itemizes various tools to address housing costs. I believe Council’s role is to implement the Housing Policy tools to keep Missoula housing costs in line with Missoula wages. Additionally, we must balance creating more housing inventory while still maintaining livable neighborhoods.
Historically child care has not been a local government issue. But as increasing costs in child care greatly impact families, it is becoming a community issue. Last year the Chamber of Commerce addressed this issue, researching it and gathering information. As we address housing, the possibility of also creating opportunities to facilitate affordable child care could be discussed. If the two issues can dovetail then we should work to provide holistic solutions.
Iverson: A City Council’s role is to lower the cost of housing and make child care affordable. To lower housing the City Council needs to Limit Projects! Because of TIF (Tax Incremental Financing) which drives up property value. Currently the City Council is using TIF too much that is why our current City Council budget is in the negative and housing can be a million dollar’s worth. Even though TIF has worked in the past because in the previous budgets it shows that we were in the positive. We need to budget better, If we have the funds towards a project then let’s do it, If we don’t have the funds then we don’t overspend otherwise Missoulians pay the price.
4. How do you view the council’s role in formulating city policy, and how it intersects with the mayor’s role?
Jones: The City of Missoula Charter states: “The City Council shall be the policy-making body of the City of Missoula.” This means enacting ordinances that are necessary for the protection and benefit of the people’s health, welfare and security. The Mayor’s responsibilities are to execute all ordinances and resolutions passed by the Council, which translates to running the day to day administration of the city.
Regarding how these two intersect, I view collaboration as the most effective tool to accomplish goals in local government. Accordingly, I work to communicate with the Mayor to build support for Council initiatives. Then, if a policy change is enacted by Council, it will be effectively implemented by the Mayor, in alignment with Council’s vision.
Iverson: The City Council’s role in formulating city policy I see an improvement is needed by implementing a City Manager position to help with the additional administrative tasks and budgeting as Missoula grows.