With an open seat on the Missoula City Council representing Ward 4, two familiar names are vying for the seat and like many of this year’s municipal races, taxes and quality of life are central to their campaign.
Alan Ault, who ran unsuccessfully two years ago, and Mike Nugent, a local businessman, touched on their goals if elected to council in November. Ault is running on taxes while Nugent looks to ensure the next generation has opportunities to thrive.
“I ran in 2019, and since the last time I ran I’ve seen a lot of changes. I’ve seen the crime rate go up. I’ve seen the city purchase more and more housing,” said Ault. “I firmly believe the city has a spending problem.”
Ault expressed opposition to the city’s strategy to purchase some properties with redevelopment in mind. The strategy has and will see the city partner with private developers to deliver affordable housing and other opportunities.
By owning the land, the city contends, it has a hand in directing the outcome of the development through a public-private partnership. The approach has grown in popularity and practice, though Ault said he opposes it.
“Taxes is just one of the things,” he said. “I don’t believe the city is using the taxpayer’s money wisely. I feel the city needs to get out of the housing business.”
Nugent takes a different perspective, saying the properties the city now owns offer unique opportunities to bring new housing to the market, and across all price points. Currently, the city has partnered with Ravara LLC to deliver several hundred units of affordable housing in a mixed-use development on city property off Scott Street.
That project also includes 70 units of permanently affordable housing created through a land trust. Along with Scott Street, the city owns the old library site downtown, several properties on West Broadway, and several acres off Johnson Street.
“We need to have people at the table having good conversations,” said Nugent. “That includes the public sector, the private sector and nonprofits. There are smart people in this town and we can solve this if we’re creative and not afraid to be bold.”
During a forum this week hosted by the Downtown Missoula Partnership, the candidates were also quizzed on their views of the downtown district. Ault suggested it had issues to address.
Ault said the district had too many bars and a problem with the homeless.
“When I’m knocking on doors in Ward 4, I hear people say that downtown is nothing but a bunch of bars and congested with traffic. I think we can improve upon that,” he said. “People are reluctant to come downtown because of the homeless situation.”
Ault said if the story is different, then the Downtown Missoula Partnership needed do more “to get the word out.” Nugent, in contrast, described downtown as the heart of the city.
He sees downtown as an area ripe with opportunity, as noted in the Downtown Master Plan.
“Anyone who thinks downtown is just bars and restaurants, shame on them,” he said. “I do think downtown is a huge part of the future. There are people who like to live in more dense, urban settings. There are opportunities for housing that touches all levels of the housing spectrum.”