Letters: Councilman Ramos: Open space bond will drive up taxes, housing costs

What does an equal opportunity community look like? If passed, the open space bond and mill levy will no doubt be a great amenity for the citizens of Missoula, more accurately, the citizens who can afford to live here.

Unfortunately, Missoula is currently facing an incredible affordable housing dilemma. Missoulians themselves in a recent survey conducted by the city have stated that they currently are satisfied with the quality of life in Missoula.

However, they expressed grave concerns over both rising taxes and affordable housing. So why does city leadership feel it necessary to focus on feel-good projects that ignore the concerns of the citizens in their own survey?

Let’s break down the $15 million dollar bond the City Council, apart from myself, enthusiastically endorsed this past Monday night and what it will mean to the citizens of Missoula County in terms of both taxes and affordable housing.

First, it is important we clarify that we are not talking about a $15 million cost to the taxpayers as the city repeatedly states. When you look at the financial calculations surrounding carrying bonds with a 4 percent interest rate over 20 years, a more accurate estimate would be north of $21 million.

Areas on the map indicated in light green are federal land; light blue is state land; dark blue is county land, and red is city land. (Image submitted by Jesse Ramos)

Secondly, we need to consider the property taxes being paid to the city and county by the current owners of land, which is to be purchased by the city and county for the $15 million. Whatever tax revenue is generated from that property will be lost from the general fund.

Next, let’s discuss the basic issues of supply and demand. It is common knowledge that scarce items are generally more expensive. This is true in precious metals, trading cards, stocks, and especially real estate.

If the city and county purchase developable land, take it off the table for development, the cost of land rises. This holds true regardless of the housing type that would have been on that land. If it was high-end subdivision or a low-income apartment complex, there is still more housing on the market, thus increasing the supply and resulting in lower housing prices. This is an undisputable economic fact that is demonstrated in places like Boulder, Colorado, where the median home price is north of $800,000 due in large part to their open space policy.

Let’s take a moment and look at the mill levy that the city government supported in conjunction with the open space bond. But before we do that we have to go to our property tax bills.

If you look at your tax bill, you will see something called a “park special district.” This is a fee tacked onto your property tax bill. This special assessment was enacted in 2010 and was $200,000 city wide. Last year, that assessment was slightly over $1.5 million.

Over eight years, the special assessment has grown by nearly eight times with no voter approval. This money can and is used for ongoing maintenance of parks and open space. Why do we need another $500,000 per year? Will this special assessment be reduced by $500,000 per year? I wouldn’t hold my breath.

I believe it is my duty as a city official not only to represent myself and those in my income bracket, but to represent all Missoula residents including those on a fixed income, those below the poverty line, and those with many mouths to feed.

It is a sad fact the city of Missoula is becoming a country club for the elite, complete with all the amenities suitable for a city of the rich. Unfortunately, with bonds, tax increases and pet projects, our local government is raising the membership fee to the country club we have created. Folks that make $30,000 or $40,000 per year a year do not qualify for Section 8 vouchers or property tax relief, and they’re being priced out of a city that our officials tell us is for everyone regardless of their income level.

Missoula is surrounded by Forest Service Land, city land, state land, and county land that already provides hundreds of thousands of acres of open space. Making housing matters worse to provide open space for third-home buying by wealthy, out-of-state folks won’t make Missoula the tolerant, egalitarian place that its residents desire.

I believe Missoula should be a place where everyone can afford to live. More unused land will only exasperate our housing shortage. Missoula is a caring place that wants to clothe, feed and shelter everyone, and this bond will get in the way of that future. It will tax us even more, only to exacerbate the housing shortage.

If you are opposed to this $15 million open space bond, be sure to vote and let your voice be heard. You can also attend any Monday night City Council meeting at 7 p.m. and let your representatives know how you feel.

Jesse Ramos is a member of the Missoula City Council representing Ward 4.