by William Skink
Farmer Josh, Sailor Engen and the handsome Bod gave the very first ever virtual state of the community. While so much in our lives has changed since the last time these three dudes got together, some things will never change, like blaming the state for not allowing more “tools” to vacuum up money.
Engen and Slotnick expressed ongoing frustration over the state’s tax system, which they believe places a heavy reliance on property owners. Montana has no sales tax, and local governments receive only a modest amount of state income tax.
While the economy collapse around us, Sailor Engen is confident that property values won’t be impacted, meaning the taxes extracted based on that value won’t change. While that revenue stream appears protected (for those who can still afford to pay), there are other economic realities that will impact the budget, and the open question regarding how much “aid” local governments might get from Uncle Sam.
Based on estimates from DOR, Engen said the recent pandemic won’t likely diminish property values. But the budget season is quickly approaching, and it’s not yet clear what aid local governments will receive from the state and federal governments.
“There is aid to local governments, but we’re not hearing that that aid comes in the form of property tax relief,” Engen said. “As we enter our budget cycle, we’re having a hard look at what fiscal year 2021 looks like, and we’ll be peaking out into 2022 and ’23.”
And here is Farmer Josh setting the stage for tax increases:
Adding to the budgeting challenges, Slotnick said, the county saw a reduction in federal Payments in Lieu of Taxes last year, and it recently lost money from centrally assessed properties.
“These are two big sources of tax revenue that went away,” Slotnick said. “We also had some properties that were paying property taxes that are no longer part of Missoula County. That leaves us with one tool by which we can generate revenue to pay for services. That overused, poorly designed tool is property taxes. We’re striving to come up with new alternatives.”
Yes, financially strained Missoula citizens, Farmer Josh is STRIVING to come up with new alternatives, like a sales tax on the Covid tourists eager to infect our wild places. What other choice do our elected leaders have?
Driving and biking around this town is depressing. Over the last few years Sailor Engen and the rest of our illuminated brain trust have pushed bond after bond to fund parks, new schools and a new library. Tens of millions of dollars have been splurged on infrastructure that now sit empty and unused.
Will the library ever open to the public? Will our kids ever go back to physical class rooms? Will sports for kids ever restart?
Bond after bond was justified by our elected leaders because they expected economic growth to last forever. That is what they told us. And they told us this line of bullshit because they refused to learn the lessons of the last economic crisis.
If our city and county can’t panhandle Uncle Sam for “aid”, they will turn the screws on the only other target they know, property owners.
There was never any other choice, they will say. Our hands our tied, they will say. Covid, they will say.
Now pay up or lose your home.