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 are reprinted verbatim.
John DiBari, the incumbent Ward 4 council member, is not running for reelection. The three Ward 4 candidates, all new to city government, are Alan Ault, Amber Sherrill and Greg Strandberg. The field will be narrowed to two in September’s primary election. Here are their answers to Missoula Current’s Q&A.
Greg Strandberg, 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: No. It’s been misused for years. Money that should go to the general fund is being diverted to our urban renewal districts (URD’s) and their voracious appetite for TIF money (Tax Increment Financing). This is why your taxes have gone up 100% over the past ten years.
Q: Do you support the city’s new housing policy, and what would you do to implement the recommendations?
A: No. The city should have included inclusionary zoning policies, like Aspen, Colorado, did back in the 1970s to solve their affordable housing crisis.
Sadly, our local government was too in-bed with developers to care about working families. If we had inclusionary zoning, large projects like the new Merc hotel and the Roam student housing complex would have been required to build affordable housing units somewhere in the city. The overall cost, in regards to their multi-million-dollar projects, would have been negilgible. They certainly wouldn’t have cost you and your family a cent.
We could have housed dozens of families if we only would have had the forsight to put that policy into place just 18 months ago. Alas, we did not. I can only hope we don’t make this mistake again.
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: I certainly wouldn’t increase taxes, nor would I clamor for a local option sales tax.
What I would do is cut spending and find overlap in the budget. I’d also ask why the city employee count has increased 150% over the past 15 years, and if we couldn’t contract some of that off with the private sector, saving us salaries, payroll taxes, and healthcare costs. The streets department is already doing this with their 2020 snowplow contactors.
We also need to look seriously at the $250 million we have in debt. Each year we spend $16 million just to service our debt, (i.e. pay the interest). For comparison, our 135-member police department has an annual budget of $15 million.
We need to get our priorities straight. Reduce spending and pay off the debt – the tax bas will expand because of this.
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: (No answer provided.)
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’d talk with our 18 departments – head and staff – to figure out what they need before the budgeting process starts. I’m getting sick and tired of our City Council being surprised by what our departments need each summer, as if they were not expecting this. When I see this year after year, I realize that many of our City Council members simply don’t know what their job is or how to do it. If they did, they’d begin to ask why we have $36 million in miscellaneous expenses spread across forty-four different city agencies and funds. I asked many of our department heads. They had no idea what those expenses were.
Q: What more can the city do to accommodate non-motorized transportation to achieve the goals in the Long Range Transportation Plan?
A: Folks, people drive. If we were interested in having more people bike, we’d build up and not out. But we decided long ago we weren’t going to do that, mainly because it would block our views. So we drive. This is a fact of life. People that vote and pay taxes know it. It’s usually the people that don’t vote and don’t pay taxes that want the free bus rides and bike lanes up the wazoo. I’ve knocked on over 1,000 doors this election cycle. This is not an issue. Our high taxes and lack of services are the issue.
Q: What would be your primary goal as a member of the City Council? How would you fund it?
A: #1 Fix potholes
#2 Plow snow
#3 Lower taxes
We’ll fund these necessary measures with your current tax payments. In a year or two, we’ll start lowering your taxes through better fiscal priorities, a reining in of the MRA, and a reduction in the amount of URD’s and the TIF money they require.