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 continue the series with Ward 4, where three candidates are vying for one seat. The field will be narrowed to two candidates in the Sept. 10 primary election, with the winner chosen in November’s general election. City Council races are non-partisan; each term is for four years.
Ward 4 includes these neighborhoods: Farviews/Pattee Canyon, Lewis and Clark, Moose Can Gully, Rose Park, Southgate Triangle and a small slice of the University District. John DiBari, the incumbent Ward 4 council member, is not running for reelection. The three candidates, all new to city government, are Alan Ault, Amber Sherrill and Greg Strandberg. Their responses will be published on consecutive days, in alphabetical order.
Amber Sherrill, Ward 4
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: I support Tax Increment Financing as a tool because I believe is does spur economic development and expand the city’s tax base. I believe this is similar to any type of investment in future returns. It is also an effective tool in addressing urban blight. While I believe this program is commonly misunderstood and/or misrepresented it has proven to be effective in many cities across the country. That being said, I think it should be used strategically and that we should regularly reassess the effectiveness in specific areas and the needs of our community to make sure they align with how TIF funds are being allocated.
Q: Do you support the city’s new housing policy, and what would you do to implement the recommendations?
A: Housing affordability is at a tipping point in our community so I strongly support the city’s efforts to this end. While I support the new housing policy, I believe more specific details for implementation have not yet come forward. As in most policy related issues, the devil is in these details. If elected, I would look forward to careful and thoughtful review of the implementation plan around this policy. Addressing housing affordability is also a step in the right direction for closing the gap between wages and housing that continues to widen in Missoula.
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: Montana has moved from a resource-based economy to a tourism and recreational based economy, and our tax system is now outdated. In the state, the outdoor recreational economy generates 7.1 Billion dollars annually. It is now the second largest sector of our state’s economy. As our city grows and as the state cuts funding for different areas, our expenses will not go down. We have had significant increases in police calls, fire calls and road miles maintained. Due to reductions over the years in tax revenue from a resource-based economy, property owners and renters are now saddled with a higher portion of the tax burden. If elected, I will advocate for a local option tax. This will allow us to pick and choose what we tax: rental cars, restaurant meals, hotels, etc. to capture additional funds from this growing sector of our economy. I’ve heard estimates that Missoula, a town of 75,000, gets up to 3 million visitors a year. They drive on our roads, use our police and other emergency services and hike on our trails. If we capture even a small amount from each visitor we will have the ability to continue the services we are accustomed to while also shifting some of that tax burden from residents to the multitude of visitors who enjoy our city and the surrounding area each year.
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: I do believe these tweets to be racist and also very disrespectful to the level of office these women have achieved. He made a choice to suggest they be ‘sent back to their countries’ instead of simply disagreeing with them on policy. I believe the use of this type of rhetoric is both dangerous and divisive in addition to being contrary to the foundation our country is built on.
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: I would take this responsibility very seriously. Missoula is an incredible place to live that I am very proud to call home. My husband and I are raising our two teenage daughters here and my hope is that they will be able to live here and feel the same way about Missoula as we do. As stated above, the price of maintaining the same level of municipal services for a growing population is not going down. I believe we need to advocate for updating our tax system to be in line with the changing economy of our state and city. In addition, we need to be thoughtful and strategic about every dollar of tax payer money we spend.
Q: What more can the city do to accommodate non-motorized transportation to achieve the goals in the Long Range Transportation Plan?
A: I believe more non-motorized commuting routes would help. Improving areas without bike lanes or incomplete bike lanes is an important part of both safety and making bike commuting possible. Incentivizing employers to promote alternate modes of transportation is also an idea I would like to explore.
Q: What would be your primary goal as a member of the City Council? How would you fund it?
A: I am committed to the continued pursuit of strategic land use planning. Land is a finite resource which means we need to strike the best balance we can with development, affordability, conservation and climate change mitigation. All neighborhoods deserve to have places to safely get outside for both mental and physical health and need trail connections to safely get to work or school. I took the lead in both bringing to the ballot and passing the 2018 Open Space Bond. I think this coupled with the proposed housing trust fund will be a good start.
In addition to advocating for tax reform, bringing economic development and higher paying jobs to Missoula is important to me. I believe the work of Missoula Economic Partnership is an important piece of this. The University is a great asset for our town. I will promote continued and expanded partnerships between the City and the University in order to create programs that strategically align graduates with new businesses and expanding job markets being brought to our area.