Missoula mayoral interviews: Hess looks to continue city goals around housing, climate
Martin Kidston/Missoula Current
The Missoula City Council's longest serving member on Wednesday said he was capable and qualified to step into the role as the city's new mayor from Day One if appointed to the job.
Jordan Hess, who worked alongside the late Mayor John Engen on a number of city initiates, including its acquisition of Mountain Water, its new housing policy and its goals around climate change, said he would continue those goals and work to grow them.
You can read Hess' application by following this link.
“I've been training for this job, albeit unknowingly, for nine years,” Hess said. “I was at the table when we put an open space bond on the ballot and got it approved by the voters. I was at the table when we established the state's first housing office, the state's first housing policy and the state's first affordable housing trust fund. I have the ability to build coalitions, and I have the ability to bring along people with diverse views to get things done.”
Hess answered his questions in depth and with the knowledge of a candidate who has been at the table to help craft a number of current city strategies. Over the past few years, that work has included an “intentional” push on the housing front, equity, climate and transportation.
In the coming months, it will also include an effort to reform Missoula's zoning and development codes. Hess said doing so will provide a once-in-a-generation opportunity to modernize planning and permitting.
As it stands, he said, the current codes are difficult to work through and cause developers needless delays, which leads to additional expenses for the consumers.
“Our current zoning code was originally adopted in the 1930s and it has been modified and cobbled together over the decades,” Hess said. “This is an opportunity to start fresh, use modern zoning tools and achieve that balance. Our code is clunky and out of date, and because of those things, we have poor outcomes.”
Hess also said Missoula was facing an affordability issue on the housing front while property taxes are too high. While the city has taken steps to address its housing issues, it will need to partner with a Republican dominated Legislature to fix the state's tax issues.
Hess described the state's current tax structure as a “highly regressive system.”
“Our tax system in Montana is fundamentally broken and it needs to be addressed by our state Legislature,” he said. “We need to reverse the 1999 tax cuts on corporations and industry, and they furthered a decades-long trend of shifting property taxes from corporations and industry to residential property taxpayers. We are just now fully feeling the effects of those actions 25 years ago. We have to reverse those.”
Hess also believes the state underfunds infrastructure and has no mechanism to fund it at the local level. It's not a Missoula problem, he said, but a Montana problem that's impacting communities across the state.
Each applicant for the job of mayor was posed 10 published questions during their allotted 50-minute interview, which was moderated by the Montana League of Women Voters. Hess took roughly 40 minutes to complete his responses and offer his closing statement.
“Missoula is a great place to live because people make it a great place to live,” Hess said. “While we've got work to do, we've laid such a foundation to be a better community than we've ever been. I firmly believe local government can be a transformative force for good to improve the lives of the people we serve.”