MISSOULA — Missoula’s four candidates for mayor laid out their vision for the future during a debate sponsored by City Club Missoula on Monday.
More than 400 people watched incumbent Mayor John Engen, Shawn Knopp, Jacob Elder, and Greg Strandberg participate in the Zoom debate.
One community member asked how we can keep the soul of Missoula intact with growth that’s forcing a spike in housing costs.
“What we need to do is to start building more houses, so our longtime residents aren’t kicked out of here. Because right now I'm talking to a lot of people and a lot of different businesses that are losing a lot of long-time employees because they have rental insecurity where their landlord sells the place out from under them,” Strandberg said. “They can’t find another place to live.”
“So, if you look at the Scott Street partner's project which is what we intend to do with the old library block as well. We engaged in a public process, found a public sector partner, working with them and the community, we're tipping up what in that case will be the largest affordable housing project in the state of Montana,” Mayor Engen noted.
The City of Missoula has permitted more than 600 residential units this year, but Mayor Engen said the city is not moving along as quickly as they'd like to on that front.
Candidates Jacob Elder and Shawn Knopp believe streamlining the building permit process could go a long way in fixing the delay in construction.
Both addressed rising property taxes that threaten homeownership even with existing programs designed to help.
“I was talking to a voter the other day that says if his property value goes up one more time, he’s off of that program and he’ll have to sell his house,” Knopp said. “So, I think we need to figure out a way to cap some of these taxes which is probably going to mean going to the state and figuring out a way to change these antiquated tax laws.”
“Missoula has far outpaced its measure with the last decade necessitating the imposition of higher taxes. So, when we pay our taxes, we’re paying for a limited range of services, but our taxes dollars have been abused year in and year out,” Elder said. “The Mayor has increased taxes every year and he said he wouldn’t he’s done just that. Enough is enough. Enough is enough.
Missoula’s primary election is set for Sept 14, 2021. Two mayoral candidates will advance to the general election on Nov. 2.