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Most candidates seeking city office support voter-passed bonds – and would again

Most of the candidates seeking a seat in city government supported recent bonds approved by voters, including those for libraries, parks and schools, and said they’d do so again if the debate crossed their desk after elected to office.

Linda McCarthy, executive director of the Downtown Missoula Partnership, posed the question to 11 municipal candidates seeking a seat in local government at a panel discussion this week.

In recent years, voters have approved a number of bonds, including services for Mountain Line, improvements to Missoula County Public Schools, investing in Fort Missoula Regional Park and building a new public library.

Voters have also raised their taxes in the process.

“These are infrastructure projects and quality-of-life projects that improve who we are as a community,” said McCarthy. “That, of course, makes what we pay on our tax bill a little higher, but they’re services we voted for. If those projects crossed your path today, would you support them, and is there anything else out there we need that we don’t have?”

Here is how the candidates answered the question, in the order the answers were given.

Jesse Ramos, Ward 4 candidate

“For the large part, no, I would not support a lot of these projects and the reason being, a lot of the folks living in the city are living on a fixed income, and they have contributed taxes for 60-plus years and they’re living on a Social Security income that doesn’t go up every year and they’re literally getting taxed out of their homes. The City Council needs to be aware and have the knowledge of how this is affecting the citizens and not support every one of these issues and not campaign for every one of these issues.”

Jon Wilkins, Ward 4 incumbent and candidate

“Most of them I would support. There’s a couple I would hesitate on, but they’re there now, so let’s live with them. I’m on a fixed income. Of course, my wife works, but I’m on a fixed income and taxes are getting high on my house, almost reaching $4,000. But we can afford it and we’ll stay there, and most of the people I speak to can afford it, they love Missoula, and they’re going to stay there. There are few that feel like they’re getting taxed right out of Missoula, and I sympathize with them. But they voted in these things, and that’s the biggest raise in taxes we’ve had in a while.”

Chris Badgley, Ward 4 candidate

“Many of these tax increases were self inflicted that we chose. I agree with almost all of these projects we put in place. Quality of life is important to us. It’s regrettable that some people feel like they’re being taxed out of their house, especially the elderly on fixed incomes. But we chose these things. We did that, so let’s get on working with them.”

Thomas Winter, Ward 3 candidate

“I don’t disagree in taxing ourselves so we can have free books for the community in the form of a library, free good education for our children in the form of the MCPS bond, or open space for all of us. I think that sometimes, taxation becomes a dirty word in the sense that through bonding, it’s the citizens deciding, not the people at this table. I would surely as a private citizen, and have voted for these bonds, and I’d welcome them again if they come up.”

Jon Van Dyke, Ward 3 candidate

“I think all the projects you mentioned are by voter referendum. I’m pretty sure I voted for all of them and would again today. Sometimes we have something come along that just really requires input from people because it’s such a big decision – a commitment – that will take years to start seeing the finished product. That’s democracy, and it’s a beautiful thing. I’m happy with the commitment this city’s voters have chose to go down.”

Heather Harp, Ward 3 candidate

“I have this concept that we always have to have a return on investment, that every $1 we spend we should get $10 in reward, and that also comes down to things like schools and open space and the like. We sometimes feel the crunch in our own budgets, but our children will be here long past when we will, and we have to continue to invest in them as well.”

Bryan Von Lossberg, incumbent and Ward 1 candidate

“The residents of the county voted for these things, and I’m a resident of the county that lives in the city. I voted for all of those things – I proudly supported each one of them. Schools are the most important investment we make in the community, and I’m proud to support that. I supported the parks bond. It has already proven to be an economic driver out in that area.”

John Engen, incumbent and candidate for mayor

“These bonds are voted countywide, and it turns out that every citizen of the city of Missoula is also a citizen of Missoula County. The majority of city residents support these bonds because they recognize those projects as an investment in the future. We’ll know when folks are done because they won’t vote for them anymore.”

Lisa Triepke, candidate for mayor

“I also supported some of the bonds we’re talking about through the election process. My main concern – I go back to transparency. I visited with the person who was a key person on the feasibility study for one of these large projects. Her whole goal for being on the feasibility study for placing the bond or not was to get a true feeling for if Missoulians wanted this issue on the ballot. The words ended up being formulated in a manner that would elicit the response to get the issue on the ballot. I would like to make sure, and ensure, that we have a transparent process and are really representing the people of Missoula instead of pushing an issue that some people think it should be.”

Julie Merritt, Ward 6 candidate

“I voted for every one of those bonds myself, not always with an easy decision. Some were harder than others. The school bond was an absolute slam dunk to me. I can’t think of anything better than investing our money in our future. The parks bond was a little harder decision. The implementation of how some of that money has been spent has been somewhat disappointing to me, personally. But I would vote for them all again if they came across my desk.”

Stacie Anderson, Ward 5 candidate

“I do support those. I’m a little on the younger side, so people before me voted for schools that I went to and got a world-class education. People voted for parks that I had a chance to play in. Now it’s my turn to do that for the next generation.”