Gas Tax, Impact Fees And TIF, Oh My!

by William Skink

Last Friday a “handful of local business leaders” signed a letter imploring Missoula County Commissioners to consider putting a 2-cent per gallon gasoline tax on the primary ballot in June.

For some odd reason the signatories of this letter seem to think local government can’t keep up with road maintenance:

Their letter, dated Friday, expressed concern that local government has not been able to keep pace with road maintenance and planning given budgetary constraints. Boosting the gasoline tax could help fill the funding gap without turning to property taxes for road-related needs, advocates contend.

“We know that infrastructure funding is a critical need for our community and supports business growth and quality of life,” the Friday letter reads. “There are limited sources of revenue for roads – almost all road maintenance funding comes from property taxes. The gas tax would be a new source of revenue that brings in money from outside the city and county.”

Gee, I wonder if there are any unstated factors that contribute to the fact that ever-increasing property taxes can’t keep up with infrastructure maintenance, like, say, capping tax revenue within urban renewal districts and redirecting the added tax value away from the general fund to the Missoula Redevelopment Agency.

Could that be a factor? What do you say Marion Alley, Shannon K. Hilliard, Christopher Anderson, Deborah Johnston, Jim Bachand, Jeanne Loftus, Melanie Brock, Brendan McCray, Dallin Carey, Melissa Mooney, Katie Carlson, C.B. Pearson, Dessa Dale, Jonathan Pederson, Travis Dye, Shannon Pederson, Dwight Easton, Donny Pfeifer, Matthew Gehr, Mandy Snook, Michael Gibson Hartwell, Carroll Anne Sowerby, Annelise Hedahl and Jolene Tatum?

A regressive gasoline tax would only raise about 1.1 million dollars annually. In contrast, Nick Checota is set to receive 16.5 million dollars in Tax Increment Financing to bring his Big D(rift) to fruition.

It should come as no surprise that the role of Tax Increment Financing is totally omitted from this letter of concern from Missoula business leaders and the subsequent article in the Missoula Current. Why bring attention to the captured TIF loot, especially when so many development projects monetarily benefit from TIF handouts?

When developers aren’t panhandling the County Commissioners for more tax money, they are spilling crocodile tears in the op-ed section about the threat of increased impact fees.

But don’t assume the financial threat is to their bottom line. Nope, developers, like Hank Trotter, like to remind the peasants that increasing impact fees don’t hit developer profits because they are immediately passed on to home buyers and renters:

Impact fees are used, in part, to fund capital improvement projects within the city. I fully support the projects impact fees help pay for. These projects make for a better, more livable Missoula. However, impact fees are unfairly burdening a few (new development) for the benefit of the many (everyone else living in and benefiting from the improvements paid for by impact fees).

City administrators like to say these fees are a way for development to pay its “fair share.” This is inaccurate and shows a lack of creative financing.

Last year around $1.2 million was raised through impact fees. They are charged to one entity — builders and developers — but are then passed along as the cost of construction to the family that buys a home, the entrepreneur building a new brewpub and even the renter in the new multiplex.

I’m not sure how many “capital improvement projects” can actually be funded with 1.2 million dollars, but it is dramatically less than what 16.5 million dollars could fund.

Hank is worried about impact fees, and he thinks we should have a conversation about it. Isn’t that adorable?

I think there needs to be a conversation about how the city is raising the revenue it needs. I hope that in the future the city administration and city council will look the fees charged to new construction with fresh thinking.

There has to be a better way to raise revenue.

I agree, Hank Trotter! And did you know that you are far from the only citizen of our little mountain town concerned about how the city raises revenue? In fact, there HAS BEEN a conversation about how the city is raising the revenue it needs.

I have a hard time believing Hank Trotter and the signatories of the gas tax panhandling letter are truly concerned about the tax burden of property owners, specifically, and the affordability of housing, generally.

If they were they might find a little space in their concern trolling to include some awareness on how diverting millions of dollars from the general fund creates revenue shortfalls that perpetual tax increases keep in-filling.

One question that never seems to get asked is how much public money does the Missoula Redevelopment actually control? I have heard upwards of 35 million is stashed in the coffers of MRA.

Any conversation about city/county revenue MUST include the role of TIF. If the role of TIF is omitted, the conversation will be incomplete, and the understanding Missoula citizens have of their tax landscape will be woefully skewed.

Is this what our local leaders prefer?

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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2 Responses to Gas Tax, Impact Fees And TIF, Oh My!

  1. TC10 says:

    Seeing that one of the signatories of that letter, Melanie Brock sits on the MRA board and has run multiple campaigns for Engen, I don’t believe there will be any critical discussions of TIF impact among these business “leaders”

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