Engen’s Web 

by William Skink

I have to hand it to Mayor Engen, it usually requires multiple tabs on my web browser to untangle the web of manipulation he so skillfully weaves. And this post is no different.

It begins with a piece at the Missoula Current, authored by the man himself. You have to read closely to catch the walk-back of the quarter million for police showers Engen casually mentioned in his Zoom debate on TIF:

Before George Floyd was murdered, Chief White was revising our use-of-force rules. Before George Floyd was murdered, Chief White and I were discussing an increase to his training budget to ensure our officers understood implicit bias and procedural justice.

And, before George Floyd was murdered, Chief White and I were talking about how we could provide adequate changing facilities and a shower for officers so they weren’t endangering their families. And while I still believe there’s a clear and pressing need to move forward with that project, I’ve slowed it down so you all can know more about what it really is, as opposed to some of the social-media speculation. And I’ll put the decision to move forward in the hands of your elected City Council.

I love the sequence here. Engen floats ANOTHER budget increase, this time for police training, then immediately pivots to how he’s slowing down (not stopping) the expenditure of a quarter million in public money for retrofitting a police station–a police station that was ALREADY renovated two years ago with a million in public money.

Remember, that post had this priceless quote from architect John Wells of MMW:

“We were designing for a 40-year capacity and I think we’ve done that,” said John Wells, one of the principal architects of MMW.

If you enjoyed that quote, here are some fun quotes from Engen’s appeal to Missoula:

When faced with intractable problems, Missoulians show up and make a difference. We’re six years into our 10-year plan to end homelessness, and we’re making progress.

Nope, we are actually EIGHT years into our 10-year plan, but good try, Mayor. Maybe you were blacked out for a few of those years and don’t remember.

We’re investing, in fits and starts, in programming that’s all about equity, but it’s not enough, and it’s not systematic and it’s unlikely to make a meaningful difference without a plan. So, through conversation with community partners from Empower Montana and others, my hope is to convene enough folks to move forward with a plan that will get us somewhere.

First, who is this “we” Engen is referring to? And what programming is he talking about? And what plan needs to be developed now? And what consultant is going to get that contract? Lots of questions, so it’s a good thing LISTENING SESSIONS will be forthcoming:

I’m also joining Missoula City Council members who have called for a series of listening sessions so we can hear you, live and in person, in an organized way to learn more, which I’m still able to do after all these years.

While Engen blabs on about the symbolic crap that always ends up COSTING MORE MONEY to produce, let’s go back to showers and lockers for cops.

In this Missoulian article, Engen justifies the use of TIF money by saying this:

The property is located inside Urban Renewal District II, where the property taxes generated by new construction go to projects inside the district rather than to the city’s general fund.

Engen said “improvement of public facilities” is a qualified expenditure of TIF under state law.

He added using the cash from the district means the police department won’t have to request the money as a budget addition from the city council.

Ok, where to start. First, Engen is either confused or being very dishonest when he claims “improvement of public facilities” is a qualified expenditure of TIF under state law.

Adam Hertz made this point explicitly in his debate with Engen just last week. State law stipulates TIF money must address “blight”, but because the definition is so broad and vague, it’s municipalities like Missoula that provide further clarifying definitions of what TIF can be used for.

I think Engen is strategically deflecting here so he and the Missoula Redevelopment Agency can avoid accountability.

Engen then goes on to make the critics point about TIF starving the general fund by claiming money DIVERTED to the TIF district, when RETURNED to the general fund, PREVENTS a budget addition request.

Well, guess what, if that money was NOT DIVERTED IN THE FIRST PLACE then we wouldn’t need to play these money games, now would we?

Now that we have this TIF/general fund dynamic firmly in mind, let’s take a look at how our brilliant elected leaders are planning to fund an affordable housing trust fund with BOTH general fund money AND public TIF money.

How many orifices do you have, dear citizen?

Talk of a possible trust fund to boost the construction of affordable housing surfaced shortly after the city adopted its Office of Housing and Community Development, along with its housing policy “A Place to Call Home.”

The policy was adopted by the City Council last June and recommended the creation of an affordable housing trust fund, along with other tools that could be used to address Missoula lack of affordable housing.

A draft resolution published with the proposed policy on Monday recommends directing no less than $100,000 each year from the city’s general fund into the affordable housing trust fund, and taking $1 million in tax increment financing from the Missoula Redevelopment Agency.

Emphasis all mine.

There was a curious part of this article I’d like to highlight, and the emphasis will again be mine:

When the city unveiled its affordable housing plan last summer, city staff acknowledged the need to establish a trust fund “by looking at ways to use private equity rather than relying on tax revenue or federal subsidies alone.”

Maybe I’m missing something, but no where else in the article do I see any example of “private equity” being used.

The only thing being used here is the public’s goodwill, and if Engen’s appeal is any indication, that goodwill is rapidly depleting.

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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1 Response to Engen’s Web 

  1. Here’s the reality:

    The city is $250 million in debt and routinely spends $5-10 million more each year than it brings in in taxes. The county is nearly $10 million in debt and spends nearly $3 million more each year than revenue brings in. We know the tourist season is shot, and this will hit local businesses and in turn municipal/county tax revenues. It’s happening now.

    Here’s the fantasy:

    At the same time Engen is pulling back on showers, he is interested in pumping $100,000 of taxpayer general fund money into an affordable housing trust fund, and he wants the MRA to inject an additional $1 million. A few weeks ago he spent $1 million of our money for a money-pit hotel.

    I don’t think Engen cares about tax revenue anymore. Why should he? He can just threaten Ellen Buchanana to release MRA money and she’ll roll over. Now he also has the CARES Act, which gave Montana $1.27 billion in federal money. I’m sure Engen will get his buddy Bullock to give him some of that cash, no strings attached. Taxpayers will also vote for any tax increase put in front of them.

    Will Engen ever need to raise property taxes again? It’s looking doubtful.

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