Missoula City Council’s Stupid Charity Scheme to “Help” People with Their Property Taxes

by William Skink

Claiming private-sector charity can make up for a ravaged social safety net is usually a Republican claim, one based on a myth this Atlantic article does a good job deconstructing.

Tell that to Missoula’s City Council.

Before getting to what the Council is proposing, let’s start with the manipulation coming from the Missoulian, which starts with the title of this article: Property taxes got you down? Missoula City Council’s Got Your Back.

A reader might think that the City Council is prepared to address the ever-increasing property taxes that make it more and more difficult for people to stay in their homes, especially if they are subsisting on a fixed income. Think again. Here is what the Council is proposing:

The Missoula City Council is investigating the creation of a donation-based tax relief fund for residents disproportionately affected by rising property taxes.

Even if the fund never gets off the ground, just talking about tax-relief options will help educate Missoulians about programs they may not realize they are eligible for, council members said.

Ward 5 representative Julie Armstrong introduced the idea in August and worked with city staff the last few months to come up with a plan, which will be up for approval from the Administration and Finance Committee in the next couple of weeks.

Her ward in particular has a high number of seniors, Armstrong said, who rely on Social Security payments that don’t keep pace with increases in city and county taxes.

“When our increases hit them, it’s straight cash-out-of-pocket and it’s very difficult for them to manage,” she said. “I’d like to offer them a buffer.”

Let me translate: a “donation-based tax relief fund” is nothing more than charity, and charity is not a limitless resource. I would also like to know why Armstrong thinks the increasing cost of property taxes is only “cash-out-of-pocket” for her senior constituents living off of Social Security. Money is money, and when property owners have to pay perpetually increasing property taxes to fund Missoula’s every municipal whim and desire, it’s cash-out-of-pocket for every taxpayer.

Relying on charity isn’t something that can be budgeted for, and it’s not sustainable, but that isn’t the point, apparently. The scheme here is to raise awareness of existing tax-relief programs already in place:

The city would only dole out as much money as they have in the fund, Armstrong said, on a first-come, first-served basis.

But she estimated that most people would only qualify for $100 to $200, and ideally the fund would hold much more. She initially wanted the city to put in $25,000 to kick-start the program.

But Armstrong said the main goal of the fund is educating people about the four programs listed above, which many people qualify for, but know nothing about.

I don’t have a problem with raising awareness of existing programs, but this charity scheme isn’t a good way to do it. Why? Because anything the City touches costs money, which is openly admitted will happen if this charity scheme takes off:

People would be able to donate and apply for tax relief on the city’s website, where they’d fill out an application and submit proof they are eligible and use one of the four aid programs.

The city would then confirm their eligibility, do the math on how much they would save on their city bill and credit their tax account with Missoula County.

City Finance Director Leigh Griffing said administrative costs should be low initially, though if a large amount of donations come in, it would cost the city more to process them and dole out more money to people in need.

So City Council wants to create a charity fund to alleviate property taxes, but doing so has administrative costs, which makes city services more expensive, which creates more incentive to…wait for it…INCREASE TAXES!

I have a crazy idea for Missoula’s City Council: instead of scheming to direct charity away from non-profits that have no choice but to rely on charity, how about you just stop pushing every bell and whistle inching up our property taxes every year?

Just a thought.

About Travis Mateer

I'm an artist and citizen journalist living and writing in Montana. You can contact me here: willskink at yahoo dot com
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7 Responses to Missoula City Council’s Stupid Charity Scheme to “Help” People with Their Property Taxes

  1. Matthew Koehler says:

    If we get another 6 inches of snow overnight we may need a donation-based fund to plow the city streets.

  2. Julie Armstrong says:

    Sorry I didn’t see this until now – Obvisously you are reporting the city new property tax assistance program I’ve proposed. First of all, I’m well aware that the best way to help our citizens with their tax burden, is to lower their taxes.
    I’m not an idiot as some have suggested. As I’ve only been through one budget cycle with council, my opportunities to reduce our city budget have been slim to none.
    That doesn’t change the fact that we have homeowners who are struggling to pay their taxes, I recognize the issue, and understand that property taxes need to come down.
    I, with other council members, have pushed very hard to have a budget tear down and in depth strategy session this winter. I specifically have asked to have the ENTIRE budget given to us, rather than just ask council to deliberate on 4-5% of the overall total. I’ve also asked to be shown 3-5 years of history for each item, including the revenue side and a forecast for the next year. Without a total picture, we have no context of the changes we ask for, or whether or not voting for an extra police officer, or asking for across the board administrative cuts of 7% will hurt us overall.
    The population of tax payers that the assistance program is designed to help, are mainly the elderly, the disabled, and those least able to absorb increases in their taxes. Many elderly folks own their homes, meaning that they do not escrow their taxes monthly like those with a mortgage do. They may budget carefully and write a check once a year to pay their property taxes, but when those taxes go up, most often their income does not do the same. They simply don’t have the ability to absorb the increase.
    The Missoula Property Tax Assistance Program offers a credit of 25% of their city (not county) taxes, and is designed to serve eligible residents who own their home, and are eligible for a current state assistance program.
    An application must be completed annually, and submitted with a current acceptance letter from one of 4 state programs – Property Tax Assistance Program (PTAP), Montana Disabled Veterans Property Tax Assistance (MDV), Elderly Homeowner/Renter Credit (Form 2EC), and LIEAP.
    One of the main goals of this program is to make sure that eligible individuals are receiving all the credits and assistance that they are qualified for, through the state. Even if this fund never gets off the ground, if we’re able to help folks get enrolled for any of the Montana state property tax assistance programs they may not have been aware of, or qualified for, then I will consider it a success.
    The fund will only be funded through donations, which are tax deductible. Now, the likelihood of the fund being grown through citizen donations is very slim, although I’m hopefully that our corporate partners and neighbors will see it’s value and contribute to it. I am also working on a number of programs that can contribute to the fund on an ongoing basis, and yes, I will personally contribute money to it as well. I will be soliciting donations from many sources, and hope to make the first payments after July 2017.

    • I don’t think you’re an idiot, I said this program is stupid. I am not sure if you actually read the post, so let me explain: there are already people who screen for these property tax savings programs at a local non-profit, so you could have been referring angry constituents to them, but instead you are creating a new program, which is a duplication of services. and because it will take paid city staff to screen for eligibility, you are increasing the cost of government in addition to duplicating services that already exist.

      • petetalbot says:

        I could use a bit more information from you, William. What are the existing local nonprofits that offer property tax relief? What is their criteria for assistance? What’s their budget? How many people have they served/can they serve? Thanks.

        • 211 is a great resource for obtaining information about local services. I can’t answer your question because one of my NY resolutions is to limit my responses to assholes. you’re welcome.

      • petetalbot says:

        It was an honest question. Thanks for the thoughtful response.

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