MRA City Council’s proposed reshuffle becomes reality, risks blocking broader goals

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The parking structure at the Roam student housing complex was funded in part by the tax increase from the Missoula Redevelopment Agency. (Current file Martin Kidston / Missoula)

The impacts of proposed changes to the Missoula Redevelopment Agency began to manifest this week, when both sides urged caution over imposing a possible cap on income and dictating new language. the agency’s mission.

At the same time, the need for additional revenue for the city and other tax jurisdictions has also become evident, with city officials saying the status quo will not work for very long, especially as the state and federal government place the cost of solving many of today’s problems. social issues directly on local governments.

“We need to strike a balance between our goals of operating in the city and maintaining our level of service there, versus the goals that we are achieving with MRA,” said City Manager Dale Bickell. “They’re both super important. MRA has been our tool and number one partner in carrying out our main infrastructure projects. It’s a balancing act, and these are important choices the board is making here.

Several city council members presented a resolution last week that, among other things, would order the MRA to invest more in housing and projects with a daycare component, and limit the amount of the tax increase available with it. the urban renewal districts of the city. The city council created each district with expressed objectives, from stimulating economic investments to eliminating the scourge.

But over time, and due to other economic influences, several urban renewal neighborhoods have seen their level of tax increases increase. As other big projects come online, including a hotel and conference center project in downtown Missoula and the Scott Street housing project, revenues are held in the urban renewal neighborhoods of the city ​​will exceed the proposed cap of 9% of the total assessed value of the city as a whole.

Supporters of the changes want any income above that cap to go to tax jurisdictions, which include the city and county, and public schools in Missoula County – the latter being the largest tax jurisdiction of all.

“We try to maintain our ability to keep the lights on and maintain a level of service that we are used to,” said Bickell. “The natural growth of the tax base has been sufficient to pay for our current level of service and maintain our inflationary pressures. But we don’t understand this now. We’re seeing a decline in the level of service from the federal and state governments, so we’re starting to get involved in housing issues, which wasn’t necessarily a local responsibility in the past. All of these things add to these pressures and we need to refine the process. Everything is linked to this balance.

Residents walk on the new sidewalk placed along Mary Avenue, built in part using the tax increase provided by the MRA. (Current file Martin Kidston / Missoula)

As the city and county envision more revenue, others suggest the city council’s proposed resolution is fraught with pitfalls and challenges. The city maintains six urban renewal districts, and the proposal would draw funds from only one, namely the urban renewal district III in the Midtown area.

This could deprive residents and business owners in that part of town of an equal chance to make neighborhood improvements at the expense of other projects in other parts of town. The sacrifices could also include long-sought improvements to the Brooks Street Corridor – a plan that has been in the works for years and sought after by everyone from Mountain Line to local residents to the city itself.

The project was envisioned both for security reasons and as a tool to stimulate other economic investments.

“The place that we send remittances from are the places that have the money, and that is URD III and the Brooks Street corridor,” said the chairman of the board of the MRA, Carl England. “The plan approved early on recognizes that Brooks Street itself needed a significant amount of work to make it the street it has become as opposed to the street it was built for, and that takes a significant investment. Now we have the opportunity, speaking of infrastructure, to do some of that work. But if we don’t have those funds, we can’t do it.

Since its inception, the increase in taxes in the city’s urban renewal neighborhoods has resulted in a long list of public improvements that would otherwise have fallen on the city’s general fund, its nonprofit partners and businesses. local. In many cases, much of the work would never have happened without the support of a tax increase.

The tool helped preserve public buildings, improve fire stations, police stations and bus stations. He has helped high school construction projects, upgraded the art museum, funded the construction of parks, and supported nonprofit organizations for the public good.

He also built at least three parking structures, four walkways, water pipes and helped consolidate public services. The tax increase has improved roads and, over the past decade, has built 15 miles of sidewalks.

“The MRA has provided resources to many small businesses carrying out redevelopment projects and small businesses that have grown into large and kept jobs in Missoula,” England said. “Housing is of course a big issue now, the dominant issue, but it has always been at the center of MRA’s work. “

Plans for Brooks Street may depend on whether or not the city draws significant remittances from Urban Renewal District III, reducing its ability to begin work.

England said more than $ 200 million has been spent on housing in the city’s urban renewal districts, and MRA has contributed $ 14 million to make public improvements related to these projects. He has also helped the city’s housing agencies including Homeward, the North Missoula Community Development Council, the Missoula Housing Authority and others.

“Success is proven by the numbers. Growth in the districts is exactly what is supposed to happen, ”England said. “But now, because of the noise, which is largely based on political disputes over the city’s appropriate role – and a significant amount of misinformation on TIF – (the city council) perceived there was a signal of Public concern in the context of the whole city government as to the appropriate or future role of what has been and will continue to be a very effective agency.

While the ordinance would force the MRA to focus on housing, child care and infrastructure, advocates for the program suggest that has always been the mission of the MRA. Apart from a few controversial investments, the agency – acting under state law – has invested in housing and infrastructure, often in partnership with private development.

As a result, some are urging city council to slow down the process until the full picture becomes clear, including members of city council itself.

“I want to make sure we’re smart when we talk about the future,” said Amber Sherrill, board member.

England has made a similar request, particularly around the proposed 9% cap and taking a large payment from part of the city, namely Midtown.

“This is a new idea, and we are heading into uncharted waters,” he said. “Before the cap is passed, I urge us to work together to measure what this will mean and what effect it will have on the projects and goals that you (the city council) have presented to us.”


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