Martin Kidston

(Missoula Current) While the city's sidewalk needs and who should fund them have been an issue for more than a decade, for now, several dozen residents in one Missoula neighborhood will be assessed their share of sidewalk work associated with a planned new greenway.

Members of the Missoula City Council voted 9-2 on Wednesday to approve a resolution ordering right-of-way improvements for the first phase of the project, which will extend from Rose Park to the Riverfront neighborhood.

As described by the city, the project will provide “a safe, comfortable and accessible route for people of all ages and abilities to walk and bike, as well as drive along a safer and calmer corridor.”

Brandt Dahlen, a surface project engineer, said 48 parcels line the project and 41 of them will be assessed costs for their share of the improvements, primarily related to sidewalks.

“They can assess the payment to eight, 12 and 20-year increments through their property taxes,” said Dahlen.

Dahlen said there was also a “high assessment” deferment for costs over $6,000, which delays repayment until the sale of the property or a change of ownership. He added that assessments represent around 16% of the total project cost while the remaining 84% will be paid by the city with funding from gas taxes and Road District 1.

Monte Sipe, the city's surface project manager, added that residents will receive letters asking how they'd like to handle their portion of the cost.

“We do that to get a feel for how many assessments we have versus those who will pay in cash. They don't have to commit to anything until the very end of the project,” he said.

A map of the greenway project. (City of Missola)
A map of the greenway project. (City of Missola)

The city's neighborhood greenway plan looks to provide bike and pedestrian routes for cross-city travel. The project ranked high on the city's transportation priorities list and includes some of the “highest priorities” listed in the city's Pedestrian Facilities Master Plan.

The project entered the planning stage in 2021 and now that it's ready to move forward, costs to existing residents have begun to surface. Ten years ago, the city required property owners to fund 100% of the cost of sidewalks, but it has since amended that formula several times.

The city now caps single-family homes and duplex properties at $9,000 and allows the costs to be paid over time. Still, with property taxes a top issue and the city's budget facing challenges of its own, some believe the project should wait.

“With the never-increasing property taxes on homeowners, property taxpayers are already struggling, and insanely so,” said council member Sandra Vasecka. “I know sidewalks are needed, but staying in their homes is more important to me.”

Vasecka and council member John Contos were alone in opposing the project.

Still, some newer members of City Council on Wednesday said the city should fund 100% of the cost, meaning all taxpayers would need to pony up for projects in specific neighborhoods.

“Having adjacent properties have to pay $9,000 for a sidewalk stems from us being a car-minded society where we think everyone needs to have a car,” said council member Daniel Carlino. “I'd like to see the city pay for sidewalks in the future, but I certainly wouldn't get in the way of us building sidewalks in the meantime. Instead of using road district or park district money to go to private security forces, I'd rather have that money go to roads and parks as intended.”

Sipe said the city plans to bid the project this winter with construction set for the spring.