Today we’ll do that by running through a short list.
It’s what I consider to be terrible spending decisions by the City of Missoula:
- $7 million for mall developers
- $4 million for Reserve Street Pedestrian Bridge
- $3 million to buy EKO Compost
- $2 million for a new evidence room…which took 2 years.
- $1.5 million to Stockman Bank a year after construction started
- $200,000 for a one-way street study in April, 2017
- $12,500 for a workforce study in April 2017
That’s $17.7 million for all that.
We have to get rid of the $12,500 for the workforce study as Engen nixed that from the budget last night.
Let’s discuss that for a moment.
The MEP and Its Secret Budget
You can find information about MEP on their website, primarily in their FAQ.
For instance, we’re told that the MEP has an annual budget of $640,000.
That breaks down like so:
- $240,000 to attract new businesses
- $200,000 to support existing business growth
- $160,000 to increase innovation and small business support
- $40,000 for investor relations and communications
We know that 67% of the MEP’s funding comes from private donors – 80 businesses in all – with the other 33% coming from Missoula taxpayers.
Those private businesses have to pay $500 a year to remain a member.
The taxpayer portion comes from city and county taxes, as well as from UM and the airport.
So…where’s the budget?
I couldn’t find one on their site so I called them up this morning and asked about that.
I was told that since they do take most of their money from private donors, that’s not public information.
I pressed the receptionist on the fact that they take $100,000 in taxpayer money, so perhaps that should be available.
I was then told that people would look into it and I’d get a call back.
No call came so I called them back shortly before 5 and was told that the executive committee will take the matter up tomorrow and get back to me.
So that’s progress.
Update: I have a new post up detailing the MEP's budget, as well as spending by the Missoula Redevelopment Agency (MRA).
I feel this partnership needs a lot more accountability.
One of the things I find questionable is the fact that our mayor serves on the MEP’s governing board.
So in his capacity with MEP he needs to find money, and in his capacity as mayor he can give that money.
I see a major conflict of interest here.
Perhaps the mayor does as well. After all, on April 10 he killed his own proposal to give the MEP $12,500 after members of the City Council began to question that expenditure.
I find that alarming as well.
Rather than answer questions about MEP’s funding, Engen simply kills the request and moves on, no doubt hoping he can get that funding through via some back channel.
I sure hope I can dig into this budget soon and get you information on what this partnership is doing.
Missoula’s Crummy Housing Situation
I’m running for City Council, so that’s just how it goes.
Let’s take a moment to discuss housing.
Rental vacancy in Missoula is just 2.9% with the average apartment going for $770. A 3-bedroom apartment runs $1,117 on average.
We’ve got 71,024 people living in Missoula and 116,000 living in the county.
Low-income households make up 25% of Missoula’s population and we have 1,654 of those families waiting to get Section 8 housing assistance.
Back in 2007 just 953 families were on housing assistance but since 2011 the number has been above 1,500 families each and every year.
Just 331 affordable housing units have been built since 2007.
We also have 601 homeless children in Missoula, up from 412 in 2016.
I see a lot of problems with these numbers.
- First, if you’re making $10 an hour and you have an apartment for $770 you’ll have $830 of your $1,600 a month gross earnings left.
Let’s not get into taxes, and let’s not get into the people making less than $10 an hour.
Since the good rule of thumb is to spend no more than 30% of your gross income on housing, we’re already way behind in Missoula.
In our example, the person would need an apartment for $480 a month if they wanted to reach that target.
Instead they’re spending 48% of their gross income on housing.
- Next, we have a terrible problem with housing assistance in that people are not making enough money to live here.
At the same time we need these people to do the menial jobs that make a city run.
So taxpayers have to subsidize them, either at the federal or state level.
- Finally, our social service network is stretched to the breaking point with our homeless situation, many of whom are kids.
Again, taxpayers have to pay for this…and all because our economy is so bad in Missoula that we don’t have jobs that supply people with a living.
Just this month it was announced that the city might get a $400,000 a year federal grant to help homeless people.
That’s great, but it also means we’ll have a lot more homeless people from other states coming here.
I wish we’d focus on finding ways to get jobs here that pay people.
I feel that getting our city budget and tax situation under control would be a great step in making that happen.