How Can A City Merge With A University? Answer: More Peanut Butter

by William Skink

Some interesting trial balloons are being floated by a University president who can’t turn around his enrollment crisis and a Mayor who can’t turn around his housing crisis.

All kinds of fun, outside-the-box ideas are being bandied around, like transforming parking lots into housing and merging police departments:

Engen and Bodnar presented a range of ideas, from merging police departments and parking enforcement, to using city services for road and sidewalk maintenance on campus, to converting UM parking surface lots to parking buildings or even housing.

“Everywhere you see a surface parking lot on campus or in downtown Missoula, that is a waste of precious real estate and a waste of opportunity,” Engen said, using the large lot in front of the Adams Center as an example. “(The city has) experience in turning those surface lots into more and creating opportunity. How can we identify some of those surface lots and meet community needs and campus needs at the same time?”

Is the Missoula taxpayer being psychologically prepared to bail out the University? Or will things go according to plan, producing reductions in redundancies for a leaner, more sustainable campus?

Whatever COULD happen, I do not trust Mayor Engen for one hot second, so I’d closely parse out comments he makes, like this:

Engen pointed out it’s no secret housing is a critical issue for Missoula, suggesting the surface lots could instead be used for residential development.

“We might identify more of these chances to make better use of the assets that we all enjoy, and I got to tell you when university finances are in rough shape, figuring out those partnerships can start to temper some of that pain and damage and in some cases provide revenue streams that are new and largely sustainable in a community like ours,” Engen said.

I added the emphasis because I’m very curious what awful schemes are being cooked up behind this language. Alumni condo suites for rent? Private pod complexes for students?

The reason I anticipate this will ultimately mean more taxes is because that is usually what happens when you add responsibilities to existing departments. Sure, maybe some administrative overhead can be shed, but the extra terrain will eventually be used to panhandle City Council for more money.

But don’t take it from me, take it from the director of Missoula’s Parks and Rec department and her brilliant peanut butter analogy from a few years back, after Missoula voters passed the 39 million dollar “Parks” bond:

Gaukler likened the park’s needs to slices of bread and a jar of peanut butter. The more slices added to the table, the thinner the spread of peanut butter becomes.

The addition of Fort Missoula has effectively left the department spread thin, she said, and without additional funding to address maintenance needs at Fort Missoula, other parks could pay the price.

“When you increase parkland by 27 percent, if we don’t add a fair share of funds to maintain that, we’re going to have to scrape the spread off some of those other parks to Fort Missoula for equal distribution,” Gaukler said.

Don’t worry, Donna Gaukler, my sources tell me MRA’s director, Ellen Buchanan, is sitting on a whole reservoir of peanut butter. The only problem is the process for getting permission to spread it is complicated, and no one at MRA has the talking skills to explain it.

If they spread $46,000 dollars of peanut butter to a consultant named Spyder, I am told, that may help.

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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