Twelve candidates are vying for the six open seats on the Missoula City Council in November's municipal election. In Ward 2, incumbent Mirtha Becerra is defending her seat from newcomer Brent Sperry, and they answered the following questions from the Missoulian. Ward 2 encompasses the Westside, Captain John Mullan and Grant Creek 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?
Mirtha Becerra: Currently, our only revenue source is property taxes. We must diversify our tax base to pay for essential services. As our tourism industry continues to grow, we should consider the possibility of capturing visitor revenue at a local level, which could provide property tax relief. I believe it is important to advocate for tax reform so that the tax structure the state currently uses to assess properties in Montana better reflects our current industries. I also believe we need to advocate for a better and more robust tax relief program, particularly to help our elderly population.
Brent Sperry: I believe the best thing that can be done immediately is to stop growing the size of the city government. The City of Missoula and Missoula County are two of the larger employers in Missoula and I believe this is not sustainable. We need to figure out ways to do more with what we have.
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?
Becerra: I believe it is important to continue to fund the city's energy coordination office in order to make progress on the goals that we have set as a community. Chiefly among them, the zero by 50 plan to reduce our waste to zero by 2050. I also believe climate change needs to be addressed on multiple fronts. While it is important to follow and implement a mitigation plan, we need to also focus on adaptation. An adaptation plan requires us to recognize new conditions, and plan and budget accordingly. These efforts include firewise measures to reduce the impact of wildfires, particularly in the wildland urban interface.
Sperry: I think the city can look into its own practices and come up with some more efficient solutions. For example, if you have lived in Missoula for a long time you will remember one of the big reasons for changing “malfunction” junction was the amount of cars sitting through numerous stop light cycles. The roads were changed to help alleviate that and since then more of our roads have been choked down to one lane instead of two which has caused the same problem they were trying to fix and just spread it out over town.
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3. What is the city council’s role in addressing the high cost of housing and child care?
Becerra: The City Council recently adopted the Missoula Housing Policy which presents a number of initiatives that, if implemented, would help address the issue of affordable housing for aspiring renters and homeowners. Child care has been identified as one of the principal barriers to owning or renting a home. I envision the City and City Council further collaborating with local entities that are working to address the issue of child care availability and high cost in Missoula. The Zero to Five initiative spearheaded by a collaboration of Missoula organizations is paving the way toward increased access to affordable child care.
Sperry: The City could come up with some programs to reduce the red tape for developers and also help with city infrastructure being delivered into new neighborhoods. This is one of the things the MRA loves to use money for when building a new multistory hotel downtown and I think that money could do much more for the actual citizens of Missoula by helping to build infrastructure into neighborhoods that would go a long ways towards reducing the housing costs. City-subsidized housing is not the solution and will only contribute to a larger problem. I think the city should focus more on bringing in higher-paying jobs to help ease the burden of high housing and child care costs.
4. How do you view the council’s role in formulating city policy, and how it intersects with the mayor’s role?
Becerra: The City Council, as the legislative body for the City, formulates and sets policies that reflect the needs of all wards and the community at large and that will protect the welfare and well being of our citizens. The Mayor represents the executive branch of the City government, and directs each department to carry out the policies enacted by the Council. Working together and finding common ground between the Council and the Mayor's office whenever possible helps maximize the efficiency of government and the effectiveness of services provided to residents.
Sperry: The City Council’s role is to discuss any and all new policy thoroughly and be a voting member of said policy. The mayor could become the tie-breaking vote on policy but should not have the power to pass policy alone. This is why it is also very important to have a diverse City Council representing their wards' concerns.