Missoula mayoral interviews: Nugent sees opportunities for equity, tax reform, housing
Martin Kidston/Missoula Current
Armed with fresh ideas and ambition, Mike Nugent laid out his plans if appointed to serve as Missoula's new mayor – a role he plans to defend come election season.
Next week, the City Council will be faced will selecting a new chief executive from a pool of six candidates. But several nominees made clear on Wednesday that they only intend to serve as a placeholder, making it likely that Missoula could have four mayors in short order.
Some contend that that could lead to instability and jeopardize a number of programs, which can't be left to linger until the political landscape clears and the wind finds a new direction.
You can read Nugent's application for the job by following this link.
“I intend to run. I think the mayor of Missoula should always be accountable to our residents, and that accountability comes with putting your name on the ballot,” Nugent said. “Our strategic priorities won't change, and the next 14 months have too many crucial things for us to focus on to just have a placeholder. If a mayor isn't willing to place their name on the ballot, I think they become an almost ineffective messenger.”
Nugent, a Missoula native and one of two acting members of the City Council to apply for the job, said the city's annual budget must reflect its commitment to issues around climate change and equity. The public in recent years has suggested the two issues are a priority.
“The priorities that we put in the budget show the community what matters,” Nugent said. “If we invest in things that give people opportunity to reach that equitable place, it really shows that commitment.”
Nugent would also like to take several city initiatives further, including Missoula's pledge to reach zero waste. With a new trash hauling company now operating alongside Republic Services, he believes the time is right for the city to lead conversations around ways to improve residential recycling, composting and trash.
He also highlighted childcare as an issue of equity – or lack of it.
“I know what it's like to search for childcare. I know what it's like to write those childcare checks,” Nugent said. “That's something that every community in America struggles with, and Missoula is no different. If a parent has to remove themselves from the workforce because they can't find childcare, that's not an equitable society, and that's not a place Missoula wants to be.”
At least four of the six candidates interviewed on Wednesday described Montana's tax structure as a broken system, and they also agreed that Missoula and other Montana cities were in the same boat.
Together, those cities will be forced to work with a Legislature that has been indifferent to the plight of local governments. It's also been unwilling to move on taxes and revenue, even while the state sits a $1 billion surplus.
While corporations and industry once provided 60% of the state's tax base and residential property owners accounted for 40%, that has flipped as the Legislature provides tax breaks to big business and cuts equipment taxes on top of it.
“There are creative things we can do to help ease some of our problems, but they don't necessarily ease the burden on taxpayers,” Nugent said. “If this system isn't fixed at the state level, we are going to face some hard decisions on what priorities we can afford to fund and what services may need cutting. That's not something anyone wants to do.”
Nugent added that homeowners can be “house rich but cash poor.” Some, he added, are struggling.
“People's home values have gone up, but it doesn't mean their incomes have gone up or they have additional discretionary funds to pay taxes with,” he said. “As we're doing our budget, that's always on my mind. Governments across the state are over-reliant on property taxes. The property tax system is broken.”
Each applicant for the job as mayor was posed 10 published questions during their allotted 50-minute interview, which was moderated by the Montana League of Women Voters. Nugent used the majority of his time.
“I want to make government better. I believe local government can be a pillar of support and good in people's lives, as long as we give our staff the right tools, and support them with policies to allow the flexibility to meet the moment,” he said.