Missoula City Council candidate Q&A: Nick Shontz, Ward 6

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.

Michelle Cares, the incumbent Ward 6 council member, is not running for reelection. Ward 6 includes these Missoula neighborhoods: Franklin to the Fort, Two Rivers and River Road.

The two Ward 6 candidates, both new to city government, are Nick Shontz and Sandra Vasecka. They will meet in November’s general election. Here are Shontz’s answers to Missoula Current’s Q&A. Vasecka has not yet provided her responses to the questionnaire. They will published if she returns the form.

Nick Shontz, Ward 6

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?

Nick Shontz, Ward 6

A: Yes. TIF is an excellent tool to drive economic development. In part because of TIF funding, two properties in downtown Missoula will see their yearly (collective) property taxes increase from 35K to over 700K, the contractors paid their prevailing wages and Missoula was able to get some key infrastructure improvements. Each year, that 665K will go into more improvements to their Urban Renewal District. When the district expires, that money goes directly into the general fund. That means that these two projects alone will contribute 665 thousand dollars into the general fund every single year. Because of this addition to the general fund, the city council can reduce taxes, increase services, or maybe a combination of both. 

One of the hard things about TIF funding is that it’s a long game, it takes time to build that tax margin. Because TIF funding is one of the few carrots Missoula can offer a developer in guiding the development of our city, I do believe that the guidelines for the Missoula Redevelopment Agency need to be reevaluated. I don’t support extending Urban Renewal Districts out beyond their original allotted time. 

Q: Do you support the city’s new housing policy, and what would you do to implement the recommendations?

A: Yes, I do support the plan. As a River Roader, I applaud the plan identifying that “every neighborhood should participate in addressing Missoula’s housing issues.” Neighborhoods like the River Road and Franklin to the Fort should not disproportionately bear the brunt of high density, large scale housing development. 

As a technologist and data nerd, I am looking forward to digging into the first section of the plan to “Track And Analyze Progress For Continuous Improvement.” Finding themes in the data and using them as benchmarks for future growth and decision making is going to be critical for success. 

I support the recommendation to ease the restrictions on setbacks, allowing property owners to better use their side and backyards, while keeping the character of their neighborhood. I think there’s more work we can do to improve the communication between contractors, housing advocates, and the city, and I look forward to helping foster effective communication. 

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: First we need to be able to diversify our tax revenues. We need to push our state legislators to allow Missoula to implement a local option tax, putting a 3% tax on items like lodging, rental cars and liquor by the glass, targeting tourists who are enjoying Missoula and using our infrastructure. We need to follow in the footsteps of Colorado and legalize and tax recreational marijuana and use that money to fund public schools and then reduce the burden on taxpayers. Locally we need to grow our economy, we need to find ways to attract high paying jobs to Missoula. Creating and attracting high paying jobs to Missoula will help reduce the opportunity costs of property taxes that citizens have to pay. 

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. They were clearly racist. Targeting four non-white American citizens, most of whom were born in the United States and telling them “To go back where they came from” and then to seemingly bask in the croud chanting “send her back” sends a clear message. This incident, his comments on Charleston and Judge Gonzalo Curiel, leading the birther movement, his role in persecuting the Brooklyn 5 and his refusal to rent to black tenants, over and over again, his actions speak louder than his words; Donald Trump is a racist. 

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: First and foremost, we need to develop policies and legislation with their impact on all Missoulians in mind. I’m pleased that Missoula has been a leader in Montana in fighting global warming, and I love that Missoula is so supportive of our parks, schools and libraries. We can use tools like TIF, which creates a long lasting return on investment to build up underperforming areas. We can support policies like the Growth Policy, which focuses on inward growth, designed to keep infrastructure and transportation costs down, that also protect the environment. 

We also need to work with our partners at the state level to diversify our tax revenues. We should be able to reach for tools like a Local Option Tax that will generate revenue from tourists and visitors to our city, while providing tax relief for the residents. We should follow in the footsteps of Colorado and legalize and tax recreational marijuana and use that money to fund schools across the state. 

Q: What more can the city do to accommodate non-motorized transportation to achieve the goals in the Long Range Transportation Plan?

A: We should continue the work set out in the Activate Missoula 45 plan. This plan outlines nearly 40 projects focused on non-motorized transportation and clearly scores each project to prioritize it’s impact. Ward Six is home to portions of the Bitterroot Branch and the Milwaukee Trail, and with the addition of the new Russell Street bridge underpasses and the Milwaukee Trail underpass, non-motorized connectivity will be much improved. 

Several members of Ward Six have talked to me about designating streets as “bicycle boulevards”. On an already low traffic street that parallels an arterial street this might drop the speed limit, and further reduce traffic, on a street that is primarily residential. This is an interesting idea and I would reach out to other communities who have implemented these plans and learn from their experiences. It seems like a great way to improve the experience of drivers and riders alike. 

Convenience is important when planning day to day transportation and we need to ensure we have good, safe connectivity through town. Looking at an aerial view of Missoula, there is green space on the south side of the river from east of the university all the way to the California Street Bridge. When the Russell Street bridge is complete, we can extend the Riverfront Trail past the California Street Bridge, down river road and toward Russell, joining with the Milwaukee trail. 

Q: What would be your primary goal as a member of the City Council? How would you fund it?

A: We need to make Missoula more affordable. We need to find creative solutions to make childcare more affordable, and to carefully implement the housing plan. We can do this by diversifying our tax revenues, growing the Missoula economy and building public/private partnerships that create practical, sustainable solutions. And we need to proactively communicate these efforts. 

People joke that Missoula has the highest educated bartenders in the country. We need to grow and attract companies in Missoula that pay a competitive wage. We need to stop expecting to “pay the mountain tax” by supporting growing local companies and attracting companies to open offices here in Missoula. For years Montana has ranked well on the Kauffman Index of Entrepreneurship; Missoula is an amazing place to start a business, we need to make sure everyone knows it.