by William Skink
I commend Jesse Ramos for continuing to articulate valid criticism against the tax increment financed utopia MRA arrogantly assumes it’s creating with its Urban Renewal Districts.
While the cost of housing continues to skyrocket, ballooning over 8% in just the past year, MRA thinks it’s prudent to spend the equivalent of some workers annual salary on an ugly dog statue. That is just one of the MRA expenditures Ramos referenced in his criticism. From the first link:
Several City Council members strongly defended the use of Tax Increment Financing in Missoula as the council’s lone Republican, Jesse Ramos, said Wednesday he felt the program had been misused in the past for projects that don’t benefit the majority of the community.
“I’m a Republican and I’m the only one on the council that’s opposed to giving $1.5 million to Stockman Bank, which is owned by one of the richest guys in Montana,” Ramos said, speaking by phone to the Missoulian after he said he didn’t get enough time to ask questions during a council committee meeting Wednesday.
Ramos also said he felt the Missoula Redevelopment Agency’s funding of $5 million for a pedestrian/bike bridge over Reserve Street, and $6.9 million for a new road, sidewalks, street trees and other infrastructure near Southgate Mall weren’t appropriate.
He said that money would have been better spent going to city police, schools, firefighters and road maintenance. Ramos also indicated he believes that the MRA purposefully extended the life of at least one Urban Renewal District from 15 years to 40 years so that they have control over tax revenue for a longer period of time.
Ramos is hitting some serious nerves with his criticism, especially asking the Queen of the Piggybank point blank if the pedestrian bridge was part of a justification scheme to extend the life of the Urban Renewal District from 25 years to 40 years in order to keep the money flowing to MRA and not the general fund.
Ramos’ criticism has been echoed here in more than a few blog posts, like this one from 2016. This is not to say there haven’t been good projects financed by TIF funds–aka the public’s money–over the years. There have, and could be more, but it’s also fair to question lining the pockets of bankers and the Lambros family, especially when the fruits of URDs and TIF money have already helped to transform Missoula into an unaffordable landing pad for coastal transplants who can afford the condos springing up.
As for the argument that without URD designation and TIF sweetener, downtown would not have risen like a phoenix from the mad max dystopian wasteland described by those who get paid to manage our public money, I don’t buy it. The trend of urban renewal was already reversing the previous trend of mall shopping in the suburbs before URDs came along, and a little mountain town with a river running through it was eventually going to be discovered by investors.
We need more critical voices questioning the intentions of MRA and the overall impacts of unaffordability that starving the general fund with URDs and TIF redirection is contributing to.