It was recently reported by NBC Montana that the Missoula City Council and the Mayor are scheduled to get a pay raise of around $40 per month, and $240 per month, respectively.
First and foremost, I would like to offer my apologizes for not spotting this on my own, much sooner. As many of you are aware I suggested withholding pay increases to non-union employees as part of my proposed budget cuts.
I certainly believe that should extend to the city council and the Mayor. This is not to say that our elected officials and city employees do not work hard, as I know for a fact they do. My suggested cuts are due to long term fiscal mismanagement that has lead to many our citizens being taxed out of their homes.
On Wednesday, I proposed cuts to what I would consider to be luxury items that a struggling city cannot afford. Those cuts failed, and I apologize to those who were counting on me. If passed, and executed in the ways I suggested, not only would have eliminated the tax increase; but would have resulted in an actual tax decrease.
When I say a tax decrease, I am not referring to the mill levy decrease last year due to higher valuations, that still resulted in higher city taxes, I mean the average citizens would have been paying less money to the government.
I understand that some of the cuts were difficult to swallow, but I do wish we could have cut at least one dollar of our spending. Unfortunately, we did not see this happen. During my time on council I have received hundreds of phone calls, emails, and engaged in dozens of conversations with citizens of our city. These are single mothers who are literally in tears over the taxes they cannot afford. These are retirees who have lived in Missoula and paid taxes for decades that are selling their homes.
As working elected officials, I think it is easy for us to become disconnected from the pain we inflict on the working poor, the retirees, and the single parents of our city with tax increases because many of us are not living it. It is because of this reason, that I will be proposing a amendment to the budget on Monday night that I believe will allow us to walk in their shoes. My amendment will be that we not only decline our pay raise and the pay raise of the mayor but that we accept a modest pay decrease of 3.85 percent equivalent to our tax increase.
Believe me, I understand this will be difficult for many of us, however, every tax increase we enact is difficult for the city’s most disenfranchised. I think that if we as elected officials experience a pay cut when we raise taxes we will be able to relate to those in our city who are most effected by the tax hikes and offer more clarity when proposing spending increases. This is not to say that our elected officials do not work hard for their money, they certainly do, just like all of the citizens whom we tax.
Tax increases come with sacrifices for the collective good and I would like to see my fellow council members stand in solidarity with me for those being taxed out of their homes by voting for my amendment. I and two other council members have already declined our pay raises. Thank you for reading.
Jesse Ramos is a member of the Missoula City Council representing Ward 4.