In advance of the 2019 primary and general elections for six Missoula City Council seats, Missoula Current asked each of the 15 candidates a series of questions based on issues facing city leaders in the years ahead. Their answers will be reprinted verbatim.
We begin with Ward 1, where three candidates are vying for one seat. That number will be winnowed to two candidates in the Sept. 10 primary election. City Council races are non-partisan; each term is for four years.
Ward 1 includes downtown Missoula, the Rattlesnake Valley, Marshall Canyon and the Northside. Heidi West is the incumbent and is seeking reelection. Her challengers are Amber Shaffer and Elizabeth Weaver.
The candidates’ answers will be presented one at a time on consecutive days, in alphabetical order.
Elizabeth Weaver, Ward 1
Q: Do you support the use of tax increment financing as a tool for economic development, job growth and expanding the city’s tax base?
A: Tax Increment Financing can be a very useful tool for development in blighted neighborhoods and districts. A great example of TIF within the City is the Old Sawmill District-a shining example of how TIF can take decrepit or abandoned lots and turn them into thriving community spaces.
Although it can be widely effective, I believe TIF should be used carefully. Increases in property tax revenue that come from a TIF development do not get absorbed back into the City’s general fund—they go into a separate fund that the Missoula Redevelopment Agency (MRA) oversees and uses for improvement on those districts as the MRA determines. Annual monetary increases to the general fund instead of the MRA could significantly help ease the City’s revenue crunch. TIF and the Redevelopment Agency are effective tools for development across Missoula, but I believe every project should be scrutinized for effectiveness and long range impact before applying TIF dollars.
Q: Do you support the city’s new housing policy, and what would you do to implement the recommendations?
A: I support the whole of the A Place to Call Home housing policy, but recognize that an entire policy cannot be implemented at once and aspects need to be prioritized. As a member of City Council, the top two recommendations I would prioritize from this policy would be: Preserving existing affordable housing and supporting affordable rental development.
To implement these recommendations, I would defer to the suggestions of City’s Housing & Community Development staff and community organizations who have worked tirelessly over the last year to create this policy. I would support their recommendations, timelines and strategies, including funding more staff, for best and most direct implementation.
Q: What would you do to expand the city’s tax base to pay for essential services and the increasing cost of providing those services?
A: Tax reform would be the first place to start in expanding Missoula’s tax base. However, some of that reform has to be handled at the state level and is out of the hands of municipal government. After tax reform, the next option might be exploring the possibility of other revenue streams such as luxury vehicle tax or tourism tax, where we can capitalize on money from people visiting from out-of-state or coming to Montana to make large purchases without sales tax. These are just a few possibilities out of a long list, but one thing I believe we all agree on is we need to expand the tax base and I look forward to working with fellow City Council members on exploring the options available to us.
Q: Do you believe a series of tweets sent out by President Donald Trump targeting four minority members of Congress this month were racist? Why or why not?
A: Yes, along with being ethnocentric, nationalist and factually inaccurate. The greater issue on why I find these Tweets troubling is how it relates to the broader issue of how our elected officials conduct themselves in office. I don’t believe that any elected official should be using their office and its public following to bully, to threaten, or to send hurtful and hateful messages to anyone. I believe inclusion of other cultures, heritages, nationalities and backgrounds is one of the things that makes our city great. I proudly support organizations like the International Rescue Committee and Soft Landing, whose work is creating a better Missoula.
Q: What would you do to ensure the city continues to meet the wide range of citizen demands while keeping an eye on taxes?
A: City services and citizen demands are not decreasing as Missoula grows. As property values and property taxes continue to increase, we need to consider expanding how we pay for services and, as mentioned earlier, look to expand our city revenue streams. Top priority is to make sure we are meeting the needs of our city and its residents through a diverse portfolio of income methods.
Q: What more can the city do to accommodate non-motorized transportation to achieve the goals in the Long Range Transportation Plan?
A: Invest in bike lanes and our multi-use trail system! The Downtown Draft Master Plan has some great ideas and suggestions for ways that we can expand bike lanes making them both safer and easier to utilize. Having more designated bike lanes, as well as a city-wide connected trail system, would make non-motorized transportation easier and thus more appealing for residents to use. And although electric buses are still motorized, investment in more electric buses to help reduce our overall carbon footprint is another great option.
Q: What would be your primary goal as a member of the City Council? How would you fund it?
A: Municipal leadership and governance isn’t, nor should it be, about pushing a personal agenda, but is about listening to the needs of your constituents and navigating the needs of the City. Outside of those, my primary area of focus would be strengthening our infrastructure through funding at the requested levels and departmental resources.