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Harlan Wells

Harlan Wells

The Ward 2 primary for Missoula City Council takes place Tuesday, Sept. 9, with mail-in ballots being sent out Monday. The Missoulian asked each candidate to respond to 10 questions, and their answers are running through Sunday in the order in which they were received.

The candidates include Anita Green, Aylinn Inmon, Jack Rowan and Harlan Wells. Ward 2 includes the Westside neighborhood, North Reserve Street, areas around Mullan Road and Expressway, and Grant Creek.

Wells holds a master’s degree in business administration, six years of experience building affordable housing and nearly five years of law enforcement experience as a reserve deputy with the Missoula County Sheriff’s Office.

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Do you support the city’s use of urban renewal districts to help fund the redevelopment of blighted properties? Would you vote to extend the life of Urban Renewal District 3?  

Urban renewal districts are one of the only economic tools available to cities for economic development in blighted areas, and I fully support their use when they are used correctly. I can see where there are still blighted properties in the district, but Southgate Mall is not one of them. So I would strongly consider extending the district’s life, but expanding it to include the mall would be an incredibly high hurdle to clear.

Do you support the city’s current focus on growing inward?

I think the focus on growing inward is having some serious unintended consequences. The three biggest are: the Westside is losing its single-family neighborhood feel, the higher densities are causing parking problems for surrounding residents and the lack of new subdivisions along the urban fringe are driving up housing costs.

City taxes increased 5.7 percent this year, which followed a 3.8 percent tax increase last year. Some residents feel taxes are too high. As you’d be involved in the budgeting process, how would you balance the need to maintain and grow services with the cost of paying for them? 

I would say most residents feel property taxes are too high, and they are right. In 2014, Missoula already had the highest property taxes of any major city in Montana by at least double digits. Add to that the parks bond, the mayor’s 5.7 percent increase, the 10 percent increase to property taxes if the school bond passes, the potential library bond, and we will be looking at property taxes up to 30 percent higher than any other city in Montana. This is not sustainable, and is the single biggest impediment to Missoula’s economic development.

Missoula Municipal Court is asking for a second judge and more room, and the police department needs an evidence storage facility. What would you do to resolve the needs, knowing voters have resisted the cost of paying for them? Would you support funding a law and justice center?

As a reserve deputy with the sheriff’s office, I support the men and women of the Missoula Police Department 100 percent, but it appears the city administration and Municipal Court are more concerned with using the police as a source of revenue than to protect and serve. I do not agree with this philosophy and hope this misuse ends quickly. That being said, the city will not have the funding for an expansion of any government until we can foster an expansion of our economy. We need to grow the number of taxpayers instead of squeezing existing taxpayers and using our Municipal Court as a revenue source.

What do you see as the top three issues facing Ward 2? And what would you do to see that they’re addressed?

Aside from property taxes being too high? I would say job creation, Keeping housing affordable, and public safety.

On the jobs issue, we need to understand that even though unemployment numbers are low, the area median income is 5 percent lower than it was 10 years ago. Combined with inflation, more than half of all Missoulians have at least 27 percent less purchasing power than they did in 2005. I believe small businesses are the real source of good-paying jobs, so I would work to make Missoula more small-business friendly. Missoula can, and should be, the best city in Montana for entrepreneurs to start a business.

As far as keeping housing affordable, I would encourage new construction  by removing barriers that are increasing the cost to build and finance new homes.  

And finally, I believe public safety in all of Missoula is a priority. However, for Ward 2, there are four areas of immediate concern: the Poverello Center, Reserve Street bridge homeless camps, the Northside pedestrian bridge and downtown. As a city councilman, I would make sure the Missoula Police Department has the resources and political support to keep those areas safe for not just the residents of Missoula, but also for those who own businesses and are visiting our great city.

What do you see as the role of a City Council member? Describe your ability to lead when necessary and compromise when its appropriate?

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The role of a City Council person is to first, and foremost, represent their constituents, both the residents and the business owners. I bring up the business owners because I think sometimes people forget that there are people who create jobs within the city that do note have a vote when it comes to electing policymakers. 

I also believe the role of a council member is to lead and encourage debate on sensitive issues. That may upset some, but all sides need to be examined before policies are enacted. Especially controversial ones. It is those controversial issues where both sides may need to compromise.

What responsibility does a City Council member have in terms of establishing and maintaining an effective working relationship with the media?

I like the media. It is the media that keeps politicians honest.  

Some members of City Council say the public doesn’t participate in the governing process, and some members of the public say the City Council doesn’t listen to their voice. What would you do to foster public participation and ensure all voices in the community are heard?

I have gone to almost every City Council meeting since the beginning of the year, and I would also argue that the majority of the council does not listen to the voice of the people. Their minds are made up well in advance of the council meetings. To foster public participation, I would listen, and vote the will of my constituents.

How would you balance the needs of Ward 2 with the needs of the larger city?

The only thing I would ask, is for consistency. If the outliers in Ward 2 are paying into the transportation district, they should have a bus line. If one area has to pay for repairs or upgrades through a special improvement district, than so should downtown. If I have to pay for my new trees out of pocket, then the University District homeowner should have to pay for his, too.

Why do you want to run for City Council? What issues do you bring to the table?

The No. 1 reason I am running for City Council is fiscal responsibility. I think it is great that the city of Missoula wants to do good, but the road to bankruptcy is paved with good intentions. So I want to use my business and finance background to make sure the economic impact of proposed policies are debated before they are voted on. 

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