Couple of things the media and Missoula County School trustees are not telling us about the special bond levy that Liz referred to yesterday. There are certain participation requirements:
If a school district bond election is held at a regular school election, or special election called by the trustees, the bond issue is subject to the following:
a) 40% or more of the qualified electors cast a ballot in the election – the proposition must be approved by a majority of the votes; or
b) More than 30%, but less than 40%, of the qualified electors cast a ballot in the election – the proposition must be approved by 60% or more of the votes; or
c) 30% or less of the qualified electors cast a ballot in the election – the proposition fails.
As a mail-in school bond issue would be lucky to get 40% turnout43% (the 2013 Missoula County mail-in election got 43% turnout with a mayoral election on the ballot), it becomes unlikely that it is going to pass. And if it is a close election at, or just above 40%, it would be better for the “no” votes to abstain from voting to push the total participation into the 30-40% range where 60% “for” is needed to win, or into the sub-30% range where the election becomes moot.
So, isn’t democracy wonderful, where a bond can be defeated more easily by a “no” contingency just staying home?
Of course, parts of the bonding are good, but as with the ill-fated 911 county bond a few years back, a lot of hidden stuff is packaged in with the essential, and we don’t really get to discuss that, or pick and choose what the voter thinks is really essential through a series of smaller bonds stretched out over time.
What this bond really shows is the “leadership” ability of past Superintendent Alex Apostle, whose main accomplishments seem to be pushing the Superintendent’s salary from a mere $132,000 when he was hired to $200,000 seven years later, and increasing his bennies to an $1,000/month auto allowance and $832/month retirement annuity.
Apostle’s “leadership” style pissed off the lowly workers in the school system — teachers and support staff, as the operations budgets and wages were horribly constrained while the school board lavished raises and perks on him. Apostle failed to incrementally increase ops budgets, and deal with critical infrastructure needs in a phased and as-needed basis, instead resorting to being nothing more than a bonding hit-man doing the dirty work for the local contractors that will be the ultimate profiteers if this bond passes. One wonders what sort of kick-backs might follow Alex to his new job in Washington???
There’s another more insidious side to this whole bonding dilemma. And that it who is going to pay for it. The obvious part of this is that property tax payers will. But another story in the local paper rag pointed out that the rise of nonprofit housing for less-than-median income individuals and families is tearing a hole in the property tax base.
While affordable housing for students and the worker classes is commendable (though Liz and I are more about housing and jobs for the un-housed and unemployed) in the current economic malaise, the amount of public assistance needed to create affordable housing, and the creation of those properties by tax-exempt nonprofits like HomeWord will prove to hobble the bonding capability of our communities:
But while Ward 2 Councilman Adam Hertz said he supports Homeword’s mission, he’s been critical of its latest project, known as Sweetgrass Commons. He believes the Old Sawmill District has been heavily subsidized, given the city’s $12 million investment to clear the former industrial site and lay the infrastructure needed for new development.
“This parcel has been subsidized already through those funds,” Hertz said of Sweetgrass Commons. “Now we’re looking to further subsidize it. Yet when it’s all said and done, this parcel is removed from the tax base, so there’s no tax revenue coming off it.”
Hertz said the public funding given to the Sawmill District came with the promise of an expanded tax base and a return on the city’s investment. As new building projects take place, they’re expected to come onto the tax rolls and help lift the entire district.
But the Homeword project is classified as a nonprofit and, as such, it can and will seek relief from paying state property taxes. Hertz suggested the cost of the project and the subsidies needed to make it pencil out went beyond his definition of affordable housing.
“I appreciate the work that Homeword does, I just differ in my view of affordable housing,” said Hertz. “I don’t believe spending $228,000 per unit is affordable by any means. It might be subsidized – that’s an appropriate word to use – but affordable is not.”
The total cost of the project, including land, is estimated at $5.9 million. Hertz said that places the value of the 26 units at just under $228,000 each. By purchasing the lot for Homeword, Hertz added, the city will spend roughly $19,000 to subsidize each unit.
“Similar multi-family land and private developers are generally seeking to spend half that,” Hertz said. “This will be used as a comparable sale and ultimately drive the cost up for multi-family land and make renting in Missoula more expensive as developers continue to develop Missoula.”
Subsidize, subsidize, subsidize, and then get a tax break. That is the new face of economic development in Missoula. And one that reveals how broke and broken our “free market” system has become.
So, while the economy is driving Missoula’s underpaid working class into subsidized nonprofit housing that is off the tax roles, our former Superintendent hit man Alex Apostle has set us up for a do-or-die school bonding issue that will not tax a growing sector of Missoula’s population — and a sector that includes a growing number of school age kids.
Glad I live just across the Missoula County border in Lake County! No, wait a minute, the tribe just pulled the
Kerr Salish-Kootenai Dam off of the tax roles, and that million dollar tax payment is going to be made up by the rest of us property owners…
Thus is born the new economy where as much capital is tied up in tax-exempt or tax-free/minimized/subsidized status as possible, and property taxes are inflated for the rest of us. Do I hear a call for a VAT to replace the property tax system???