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City Council: In Ward 5, a pledge of tax cuts versus the needs of Missoula residents

Stacie Anderson, the incumbent in this year’s Missoula City Council race in Ward 5, and Bob Campbell, the challenger, discuss their goals if elected in November.

While Stacie Anderson and Bob Campbell took different routes to Missoula, both look to contribute as problem solvers on the City Council representing Ward 5. Housing, taxation and development are in play.

Anderson, the incumbent, believes the city needs solution-oriented leaders willing to “dig in, do their homework, show up and serve” the community to solve today’s complex challenges around housing, homelessness and economic success.

Campbell, who looks to take Anderson’s seat, has an eye on city spending and streamlining the development review process. Like many of this year’s challengers, he pledges “accountability and fiscal responsibility” in local government.

“I think we need to do more to control our spending. Our taxes go up year after year, and it seems like every year we find new and creative ways to tax us by finding new and creative ways to spend our money,” he said. “It’s your money after all. It’s not the City Council’s money. It’s not the city’s money. I think that’s lost on a lot of people.”

With that in mind, Campbell suggested this week he would bring more transparency and accountability to city government, though details were scarce. A California native who worked as a planner, he moved to Montana as a law enforcement officer, and looks to continue serving as an elected official.

Campbell said “feel good” resolutions don’t accomplish much, and with the city’s housing challenges now a leading issue, he believes Missoula can do more to streamline its development review process.

“I think we need to dive deep into solving the issue of having developers come and have to wait 12-18 months to get development through the government review process. I think that’s ridiculous,” he said. “I’m going to make sure we hold our feet to the fire to streamline the government review process. Let’s expand our townhome exemption development. Let’s expand opportunity for entry-level and rental housing.”

Anderson, who grew up in Kalispell as the daughter of a police officer, often visited Missoula as a girl. She attended her first concert in Missoula and graduated from the University of Montana. As the incumbent in this year’s Ward 5 race, she brings a deep understanding of the challenges that lie ahead.

Successful cities don’t build themselves, she said.

“So many of the problems and challenges faced before the pandemic have been exacerbated,” she said. “The problems we’re facing now seem larger and more complex. I want to continue to have good people on council who are solution oriented and creative thinkers.”

While Campbell pledges fiscal accountability, Anderson said the challenges faced by municipal governments across Montana run deeper than campaign pledges.

During the last legislative session, she lobbied members of the Legislature in an effort to expand their understand of the impacts their actions have on local government. What happens in Helena trickles down to cities across the state, and eventually their taxpayers.

“When they cut things like mental health case workers, we then see a direct increase in calls for service,” Anderson said. “So what do we do? We stand up a mobile crisis unit.”

Anderson said the need for such services is important, and the responsibility of providing them has fallen with heavier weight on local government. She also acknowledged that that has an impact on the city budget and the taxpayers that fund it.

The state’s tax system has not kept up with Montana’s changing economy, she said.

“We’re no longer a timber town. Extractive industries are not the biggest economic driver in Montana,” she said. “We have to have a tax system that’s reflective of that. When the Legislature moves from appraising properties every six years to every two years, people feel they’re constantly getting hit with increases in their property taxes, even though the city in our last two budgets didn’t raise our portion of the mills. We need people to understand how this is all interconnected.”