MISSOULA - While Missoula County considers placing a crisis services levy on the ballot this November, commissioners on Thursday opted to place a bond to improve the fairgrounds before voters this fall.
The decision was quickly praised by advocates of a new livestock facility and expanded ice rink at the Missoula County Fairgrounds but was lamented by those who oppose additional bonds and taxes in Missoula, saying they're driving up the cost of living and stretching people thin.
“Competitive skaters and hockey players have had to travel out of state for practice when our ice here isn’t available,” said Bea Erickson, a competitive skater and backer of the fairgrounds bond. “That can get pretty expensive. I’m glad we’ll have year-round ice if this levy passes.”
Commissioners said the bond wasn't up to them to decide. Rather, they said, voters must decide the merits of the request put forward by several user groups at the fairgrounds when they head to the polls this November.
If approved, the $19 million bond would fund the construction of a new livestock and equestrian center, a third sheet of National Hockey League ice, and renovations to the existing Glacier Ice Rink.
“This is a big step,” 4-H board member Jon Turner said. “Community members have been planning these improvements for more than 20 years and we’re glad voters will now have the opportunity to help put them into action.”
The request comes at a time of high inflation and interest rates, with consumer goods and borrowing costing more than at any point in recent years.
Both the city and county have hinted strongly at a significant tax increase this summer, one Mayor John Engen has said will likely be the largest during his tenure as mayor.
Earlier this year, county commissioners also placed a levy on the ballot for Missoula Aging Services, which voters passed. If the fairgrounds bond and levy for crisis services also pass, Missoula voters will have imposed tax increases at every opportunity this year.
That doesn't include the state's pending release of new property values, which could also increase, adding an additional cost to property owners.
On Thursday, members of the City Council urged the county to place the crisis services levy on the ballot. The tax implications for that aren't yet clear, though the fairgrounds bond would translate to $14.88 a year for a home with an assessed value of $200,000, or $29.76 annually for a home assessed at $400,000.
“The Fairgrounds has been a community gathering place for more than 100 years, and it’s more popular than ever,” said Turner. “The improvements will help us meet this growing demand.”