Jean Curtiss: Why is Missoula County funding so many city projects?
Please consider the following comments for the Missoula County budget for Fiscal Year 2021.
I would ask the commission to reconsider the requested $100,000 to study the functionality and feasibility of joining the city in ownership and use of the Federal Building. I consider this a waste of public dollars.
No. 1, Mayor Engen has been strategic in pulling apart all the departments that the city and county used to share. The planning departments used to be in a joint office. He wanted more control and split them up. The grant department was a joint city county office. He wanted more control and split them up. So I find it odd that he now wants to share space.
The county needs to find a permanent home for CAPS: the county planning, parks and trails and grants staff, but surely don't need to move into an old building that likely has environmental issues, HVAC issues, leaking roofs and asbestos. It is not a welcoming building, has no parking and will cost a fortune to remodel and heat.
I recommend you take that $100,000 and use it for architectural services to build on one of the county's strategically purchased and reserved lots on Alder next to the Risk and Benefits office instead. That would be a much better investment of public tax dollars and allow you to meet the specific county space needs on the county owned lots next to the other county buildings along Alder. The county will have control of the project, can design it for the needs of the departments, and won't be hammering out an interlocal with the mayor.
I am also concerned about the proposed gift of county land adjacent to the detention center for the housing project. The county has been strategic in reserving that land for potential, unknown county needs in the future. While the use proposed sounds like it would be beneficial to the community, the details are vague about the navigation center and some important community stakeholders were left out of the planning.
This allows the city to meet some housing goals, but at the presentation on August 22, there was no mention of a city financial contribution to the project, so the investment seems one sided. I am also concerned about the mix of housing types next to each other. One section will require intensive case management of a high-risk population, the other could have families and children. I wouldn't want to live there and worry about whether my neighbors were a risk to my kids.
This piece of land has been coveted by many, but the taxpayers bought it for public use and it should continue to be reserved. Land is the biggest driver of the cost of projects, which is why it benefits the proposed project, but also why it makes sense to keep it.
Lastly, I am concerned about several requests in the budget that transfer county tax dollars to the city's identified needs.
No. 802: $53,950 for Homeword Landlord Liaison. This position will help folks who live in the city and focuses on services and facilities in the city so it should be on city taxes not county wide.
There is another request to fund part of the Reaching Home coordinator at $35,000. I was involved in the 10-year Plan to End Homelessness from the inception and support the work, but the county contract with the city has always referred to forming a Governance Group with county representation to oversee the work and that has never happened. This is another program that benefits mostly those in the city.
New this year is an allocation of $50,000 for winter shelter to the city. The city doesn't have a winter shelter plan or facility. The come in out of the cold at night plan last year did not really address people without shelter in the winter. It was cold in the daytime too. The winter shelter money used to be managed by the Salvation Army and put people in temporary housing. There is not much detail about this, but it again benefits people with needs in the city and will not benefit people in Lolo or Seeley or Frenchtown who may also have winter shelter needs.
All of these are good things, but I question why they are being funded by the countywide levying of mills when they serve people in the city not the county.
Jean Curtiss is a retired Missoula County commissioner.