And I’m sure there’s more.
Honestly, I can’t keep track of all the new money that Missoula wants from you.
- We know there’s a $15 million open space bond that’ll be on the ballot this November.
- In addition, we hear about something to fund the maintenance of that open space.
Those are two things we can vote on.
But what about all the stuff we can’t vote on…some of which has already passed through the City Council?
I think it’s important for us to tally up all the recent costs we’ve been reading about.
What’s more, let’s put those recent costs into perspective by comparing them to previous years’ spending.
What Has Missoula Paid for Lately?
Here’s a running total:
- $6.3 million for a Mullan Road transportation grid
- $1 million from the county for the Mullan Road grid
- $425,000 to expand the bike trail by South & Johnson
- $305,000 elementary school levy
- $229,000 for Russell Street water main extensions
- $200,000 to save the new library’s 4th floor
- $170,000 high school levy
- $146,000 to replace the Uptown Diner with an art gallery
- $93,000 to connect 10 tiny homes to utilities
All of that stuff comes to $8.8 million.
$8 million of that was spent since July 10.
How much does this cost homeowners each year? For a $302,000 home, this is what it’d come to:
- $9.07 for the elementary school levy
- $5.25 for the high school levy
Yep, just over $14…because that’s the stuff we passed via the ballot in May (the two school bonds).
All the rest of that stuff is funded through the existing $140 million city budget.
We know that the Missoula Redevelopment Agency had 16 budgeted items in the 2017 budget, which totaled $26.4 million.
In addition to this, the 33% of the Missoula Economic Partnership’s budget that comes from taxpayers amounts to another $100,000 a year.
For the MRA, they have a 5-person board, each member serving four years.
The City Council rubber stamps their budget each year. The idea of accountability for either the board members or the budget they put forth is silly at best.
You pay for this in the tax increases you see each year. Between 2005 and 2017 taxes in Missoula went up by 94%.
What Are Missoulians Being Asked to Pay For?
I don’t think the MRA will give them this money, but I could be wrong.
We already gave the Merc developers $3.6 million last summer.
What we do know is that come November, we’ll have the following on the ballot for voters to say yes or no to:
- $15 million for a new open space bond
- $500,000 perpetual mill levy to maintain existing open space
Articles often list the $14 a year that a $265,000 home would pay in additional taxes.
However, we know that the average home price in Missoula just shot up to $302,000.
That puts the annual increase for most owners up to $16.
So for a $302,000 home you’ll be paying an extra:
- $20 for the open space bond
- $16 for the perpetual mill levy
That’s an extra $36 a year.
If we add in the $14 from the school levies in May, we see that homeowners have to pay another $50 in taxes next year.
Many in Missoula feel $50 extra a year is nothing.
- Renters already pay $9,100 a year to rent, on average, and if that rent went up more, it’d hurt them.
- Missoula mortgages average out to $1,455 a month, and if taxes went up a bit, it’d hurt them.
- Homeowners pay an average of $5,600 a year in costs/maintenance, and if taxes went up some, it’d hurt them.
I just don’t think those representing citizens on the city council, or those that have been appointed to the MRA, know this reality.
Are These New Costs Necessary?
Instead, the city will ask already-cash-strapped homeowners to pay more.
What we’re not getting is the whole story.
For instance, way back in 2010 the city knew its open space bond account from the 2006 bond was running low and they had to do something.
So they passed a Parks Special Assessment Levy, which raised $200,000 that year.
By last year it’d shot up to $1.6 million.
In other words, the city has no need for this new levy…for two reasons:
- It could roll over general fund money
- It’s already taking $1.6 million a year…or three times what the levy wants!
That’s money the city is already taking from you via a levy, and which they’re supposed to be using for open space maintenance.
‘Supposed to’ is the key bit there – I don’t think the city is using its money appropriately.
For instance, many times we’ll see the city dip into one fund to buy things for another area of government.
Then they need to come back to taxpayers and ask for more money, or better yet, just ram it through the Council.
You know there’s only going to be one vote against any kind of money grab, and that comes from Jesse Ramos of Ward 4.
He was on KGVO Newstalk radio this morning, discussing a lot of the city’s financial problems.
And trust me, we know the city has serious money woes – it’s why they have to come back each year and ask you for more money via bonds and levies, on top of the yearly tax increases Engen promised while running for reelection.
This is what Missoulians want, as the voting shows: Engen won his fourth term last fall with 59% of the vote.
Yeah…just 21,000 voted in a city of 75,000, but I guess that means most people just aren’t paying attention or just don’t care.
Turnout among registered voters was 43%.
Since we know Missoula is the most unequal city in the state when it comes to incomes, this is no surprise.
Those that vote can afford to live here, while most of those that don’t can’t. And those that don’t vote often pull up roots and head somewhere else.
There’s no civic engagement to begin with, so fewer ties to the community for those people. Why should they care?
So we see our kids leave while older folks from richer states move in.
To accommodate the wants of those rich folks, the city chooses to raise taxes so it can buy more from its want-list.
The city can’t wait for a local option sales tax, either…though so far the GOP-controlled legislature has thwarted their efforts.
What About the City’s Debt Load?
Before all the stuff we mentioned, the city was already $240 million in debt.
Why? Simple – the library, the regional park, the water company, the $88 million in existing debt before that, and the $12 million we added into the 2017 budget.
One of the things that people don’t often take into consideration is the debt.
For instance, there was a lot on the $4.2 million we spent for the Reserve Street pedestrian bridge…but little on the actual cost.
When we pay that bridge off in 20 years, it’ll have cost us $7 million.
Again, people don’t think about the massive resources that debt eats up.
In the 2017 City of Missoula Budget, the city was spending $11.3 million to service its debt, or 8% of the budget.
In 2015 the amount was $5.5 million.
In two years, our debt servicing yoke more than doubled.
We have 50 debt service funds listed in the budget, with some dating all the way back to the early-90s.
Instead of slowing down and paying down what we have, we continue to budget for more debt while asking taxpayers to take on more as well.
This isn’t a sustainable path for anyone to be on, and one day the city is due for a reckoning.
Bragg, Dennis. “MRA board will fund improvements for affordable home project.” KPAX. 20 July 2018. http://www.kpax.com/story/38692463/mra-board-will-fund-improvements-for-affordable-home-project
Devlin, Sherry. “Open space stewardship levy headed for November vote.” Missoula Current. 16 July 2018. https://www.missoulacurrent.com/outdoors/2018/07/missoula-open-space-stewardship-levy/
Hall, Mari. “Golden Spike trail opens, providing final link between Missoula and Hamilton.” Missoula Current. 18 July 2018. https://missoulacurrent.com/outdoors/2018/07/missoula-golden-spike-trail/
Kidston, Martin. “Missoula Redevelopment Agency pledges $500K to library to save four-story design.” Missoula Current. 17 May 2018. https://missoulacurrent.com/business/2018/05/missoula-library-design/
Kidston, Martin. “Missoula County raises $16M in pursuit of grant for Mullan-area transportation grid.” Missoula Current. 10 July 2018. https://www.missoulacurrent.com/business/2018/07/missoula-mullan-grid/
Kidston, Martin. “City Council approves conservation levy for ballot as voters also consider new open space bond.” Missoula Current. 12 July 2018. https://missoulacurrent.com/outdoors/2018/07/missoula-mill-levy/
Kidston, Martin. “Building up: Contemporary gallery wins funding assistance as downtown project nears.” Missoula Current. 20 July 2018. https://www.missoulacurrent.com/business/2018/07/contemporary-gallery-missoula/
Kidston, Martin. “Plans to extend city water mains could open door to infill development.” Missoula Current. 20 July 2018. https://www.missoulacurrent.com/business/2018/07/water-development-missoula/
Rafferty, Melissa. “Missoula Mercantile hotel developer seeks more money due to cost overruns.” KPAX. 17 July 2018. http://www.kpax.com/story/38665640/missoula-mercantile-hotel-developer-seeks-more-money-due-to-cost-overruns
Strandberg, Greg. “The Dirty Missoula Economic Partnership & the Rotten Missoula Redevelopment Agency.” Big Sky Words. 12 April 2017. http://www.bigskywords.com/montana-blog/the-dirty-missoula-economic-partnership-the-rotten-missoula-redevelopment-agency
Strandberg, Greg. “Missoula is a Quarter of a Billion Dollars in Debt.” Big Sky Words. 16 June 2017. http://www.bigskywords.com/montana-blog/missoula-is-a-quarter-of-a-billion-dollars-in-debt
“Summary Budget Fiscal Year 2017.” City of Missoula. Page A-11. PDF document.
“Voters approve 2 levies for MCPS.” KPAX. 8 May 2018. http://www.kpax.com/story/38144988/mcps-2-levies