This means the city will now own its water, though that might not take effect until all the appeals are done. Considering that corporate behemoth Carlyle owns Mountain Water, those appeals could go on for some time.
We’ll discuss this issue more below, but first it’s best to discuss what will be paying for the new water company if it does indeed go to city hands, and that’s tax money. Taxes were a big issue at the meeting tonight, as you’ll see.
You can see the complete June 15, 2015, Missoula City Council agenda at that link. The main points that were up for discussion were:
- Approving checks for $671,814.12 (no water lawsuit money this week).
- Giving $70,755.48 to the Screw Press Solids Dewatering project, which in essence is a big piece of machinery that will cut up all the old trees we’re cutting down due to the city’s urban reforestation plan.
- Spend $30,000 for a Rinntech Arbortom 24-sensor Resistograph, which allows you to “detect the inner condition of trees and wooden structures,” according to the company’s website.
- Make it known that the city will annex an area called Tract C1 of C.O.S. 6385 “generally located south of Interstate 90 and east of Grant Creek Road.”
- Annex “city and county owned land” so that the Fort Missoula Regional Complex can get bigger.
Lots of fiscal year 2016 budget issues were going to be discussed, including the Tourism Business Improvement District, Business Improvement District, Park District, Road District, fire inspection resolutions, wastewater permits, and development services fees.
Lots of committee reports, such as Land Use and Planning, Parks and Conservation, Budget, Public Works, and Committee of the Whole.
Amending the North Reserve/Scott Street Urban Renewal Plan so the boundaries are larger, allowing the city to earn more income from taxes.
There’s a lot more stuff after that, and boy, you can tell this will be a long meeting. I’m quite positive most City Council members wanted an orderly and thorough process, one without interruption or pesky public comments. It didn’t quite go that way.
John King over at News Talk KGVO had reported on June 12 that the City of Missoula is asking for a 5.27% increase in city taxes for the next fiscal year. That might sound high, but it could have been 8.9% “if all of the city council members had their requests approved.” The reasons for this are things like jail diversion programs and the “$15 minimum wage for city employees.”
On that last point, I don’t think many in the private sector in Missoula are making that much for minimum wage jobs, so why should city workers? I guess it’s because they feel entitled to it, that’s all I can figure. Still, private businesses have to be profitable before they give pay raises; the city just has to ask the taxpayers for more money.
Overall, it’s backwards thinking from a City Council that doesn’t have a whole lot of real world experience, doesn’t have much experience with private business, and relies upon what they know from their government jobs. When you’ve always been paid by taxpayers, why wouldn’t you expect them to keep footing the bill year after year, no questions asked? This bunch doesn’t.
Right now the city has about $3.4 million. Still, they have to pay $3.1 million in fees even if they lose the water lawsuit, and that’s not even factoring into the equation all the money they owe on the 10-year old South Avenue lawsuits, still waiting to be paid I might add.
The City Council’s sole conservative – Adam Hertz, one giving up this year in frustration – expects the number that will go out the door is closer to $8 million, meaning the city will be close to $5 million in the hole because of the water lawsuit. We’ll have to either borrow that money at high interest rates to pay the crooks and thieves, or we’ll have to raise taxes.
So now you know why Mayor Engen needs to raise taxes by 5.3%, and that’s one of the things I expected to bring up during the public comment phase of the meeting.
His beady eyes darted around the council chambers nervously as the meeting got started. He was right to be nervous – he was asking for more of the people’s money, a sure sign that his policies had failed. Would he be held accountable?
It was revealed by the Missoulian at 6 PM that the mayor would be asking for a 4.99% increase, something they hadn’t done until then. For three days they let this news go by, ignoring it, letting the radio station talk about it and maybe the TV news. You have to wonder…why?
The paper reported that the roads district is getting 13% more money and the park district is getting 26% more money. What’s more, telecommunications companies have actually left town, costing the city $316,000. I’m sure they don’t want that brought up at the meeting, how their terrible policies are actually driving businesses away.
To make it seem like the city is offsetting these increases and losses, it’s cutting $285,000 from various departments, in effect, telling them to do something on their own because the main office can’t figure out what to do. This totally eats up the up to 6% savings those departments had amassed over the past couple years, effectively eliminating all incentives for those departments to cut costs on their own and act frugally. After all, anything they save will just be taken from them from the big boy.
The mayor started off the meeting by taking public comments, and our usual woman that reads from the Communist manual of discontent continued on. She only read for a couple minutes, then a gentleman got up and asked some questions about Highway 93 issues
There were 20 people at the meeting, and 16 city workers – councilors, clerks, the mayor, and his attorney.
This is a very sad thing, this lack of engagement and concern about local government. I got up and mentioned that, and mentioned how poorly the City Council and the mayor are doing, and those comments were accepted.
After that it was said by Alex Taft that we had to buy this $100,000 worth of equipment because it allows councilors to communicate with constituents better. He said it’s a “traumatic” event for a homeowner to lose a tree, and this makes it easier for everyone to handle.
Jon Wilkins from Ward 4 then said these tree tools were necessities. Before this we’d have to use a mallet, and it came down to the judgment of who was “tapping the tree.”
In the end, how these things are passed is that the “consent agenda” is voted on, and no one voted against it. That meant all that tree funding and the other $671,000 was approved.
The PowerPoint presentation on annexations continued, with most councilors looking bored. If they weren’t reading the slides on the screen as the city worker read them as well, they were looking into their computers.
I personally found the diagrams to be indecipherable, with lots of green, shading, and even lines through areas that had other shading. I doubted that anyone had any idea what they were looking at.
After that we were shown a slide with a yellow color, again with shading and lines on certain segments. Then it was more reading from slides.
Honestly, I’m not sure why we even listen to this, as no one ever votes against these things. I was therefore quite surprised to see a young man come up and give a public comment on this. He had semi-dreadlocks and a shirt that “Montana Conservation Corps” on the back. He mentioned how he liked walking around that area. At that point he started to trail off a bit and the mayor pulled him back into line, I won’t say chastise, but it certainly cut off the man’s comments quickly and that was that – no further disturbance or questioning.
At that point it must have been felt that more needed to be done. After all, they know full well that someone’s sitting right there in the front row writing everything down for a hungry audience to read.
A city worker was pulled up to tell about the 156 acres that are being annexed, which will include “5km of trails, many fields, a plaza area, pavilions, special features, a softball complex,” and more. Most of the annexation has to do with long-term management and meeting the terms of the users. It allows police to respond to city ordinances, though they’re quite far away from that, and their budget has just been cut, as we’ve seen.
Jon Wilkins then asked if the county maintenance budget would increase because of this annexation, and it was revealed that it would. Whether the county will shuffle money around or raise taxes to get that money was not revealed.
Fort Missoula’s historic CCC era was brought up in justification for these spending increases as well as the annexation. In that regard, we’re paying for the memory of people that couldn’t get jobs because bankers ruined the country so the federal government had to step in and bail them out with work.
The annexation was approved, two city workers left the room quickly, and we were down to 16 people in attendance and 16 city workers. Yes, many that attend Missoula City Council meetings only go because they have to, because it’s part of their city job.
Here’s an example of the city using a grant that was meant for studying the jail problem to instead prop up flagging city budgets and “cash reserves with one time only money.” This is shady shuffling of the budget so that they mayor can cover over shortfalls and gaps in his budget, and he’s doing that with grant money.
This is despicable, to say the least. The mayor then read off a long list of ‘hopes’ associated with this long list of funding items, one of which was that “government could sustain itself over time,” something that isn’t likely with the mayor’s terrible handling of things these past 9 years.
The mayor then read off the average increase that taxpayers would have to pay and that’s $37.20 on a home that’s $200,000 or so. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but it all adds up. Remember, if you’re not working for the city you can’t just raise your pay so this might make sense.
A woman got up to talk about the budget. She lives on S. 2nd Street W., a street I used to live on. It’s a fancy street, and I was in an old house that had been converted to apartments. She spoke in favor of this funding in regard to traffic on 5th and 6th Streets and how traffic issues need to be addressed, something that’s been kicked around since the 90s.
She read an account of a man with an artificial leg that parks on 5th street and has to swing his door out into oncoming traffic. There’s not much room there, and he’s constantly afraid of getting his door sheared off, or worse.
Harlan Wells then got up and mentioned the wide variety of taxes coming up – school bonds, library bond, the previous parks bond – and he asked people to be “cognizant” of our tax environment and how it puts us at a “competitive disadvantage compared to some of our Montana sister cities.”
It was then revealed in the meeting that the city has prevailed in its attempts on the water lawsuit, which accounts for the mayor staggering out earlier. It was a big announcement and the mayor and several council members were quite happy.
Judge Townsend stated the following reasons for her judgment in the Mountain Water opinion:
- The benefits include stability of ownership, the prioritization of the health and safety;
- Local control by local officials that are required to take part in public decisions;
- Opportunities for public comment;
- Opportunities for cost savings;
- Reduced operating expensed through elimination of ‘home office expense’;
- Public support of municipal ownership;
- City’s access to capital and loans and grants not available to the private sector.
“It’s a monumental moment for the City of Missoula,” the mayor said, tears nearly in his eyes. Ward 2’s Adam Hertz looked on, trying with all his might to hold his disappointment in check, and failing miserably. The mayor let out a deep sigh, mentioned how he “thinks we’re gonna hear everyday” on the case, but then it never happens. It was clear he was relieved to hear this news, and that a lot of anxiety was lifted.
Of course, the real process is just now beginning. The big guns of Carlyle will be unleashed, for no one is going to let that huge asset just be taken away from them like that.
A large round of gladhanding then began at the mayor’s behest. Marilyn Marler mentioned how she would have clapped if it wasn’t against the rules. Everyone was pleased with themselves, their performance in taking a private company with their courts. It was a real shame to listen to this, for it’s clear with all the money the city and county waste, we could have saved up for this and bought it fair and square. But Missoula is the kind of place that doesn’t play fair and square; it’s the kind of place that takes what it wants, and to hell with the consequences.
Ward 6’s Ed Childer’s hoped we “didn’t get squeamish” about the money that we’d now have to spend to defend this decision. We all know that the judge was supported in her election efforts with campaign cash raised by the Engen machine – this chapter of Missoula history is just starting.
Everyone else pretty much passed on comments or praised the mayor. After that you knew there wouldn’t be much of the previous agenda, which was quickly forgotten. The mayor asked for people’s opinions, and then that was that, the City Council meeting adjourned at 7:55, not even an hour of work done.
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