by Travis Mateer
In 2017 Montana experienced its worst fire season since 1910. The budget cuts that resulted, overseen by a Democratic Governor, significantly impacted Medicaid recipients and the organizations that serve them, like Western Montana Mental Health. Attempts the following year to restore some of the funding helped, but much of the damage was already done.
Most of the cut restorations in the governor’s proposal will go to the Department of Public Health and Human Services. That’s just over $30 million.
However, that does not restore the entire $49 million the governor and Legislature cut from the agency last year amid a projected budget shortfall.
Some of the key areas targeted by the Bullock administration under this Thursday’s announcement include an across the board rate restoration for Medicaid providers and re-funding assistance programs for people who require behavioral health and developmental disabilities services.
Now, four years later, the ripple effects are still being felt, but for some interested parties, the economic degradation of Western Montana Mental Health is a great opportunity.
For Missoula County it was an opportunity to expand their election infrastructure:
The building eyed by the county was formerly occupied by the Western Montana Mental Health Center at 140 N. Russell St. It includes roughly 7,700 square feet of office space divided across three floors and will require around $500,000 in renovations.
The ground floor would accommodate non-election events while the basement would serve to tabulate ballots. The upper level would be used to process ballots.
“Currently we operate in several buildings and move ballots back and forth between buildings,” Zeier said. “It will all now all be within one area with no outside exposure whatsoever.”
For investors in the Fort Missoula property WMMHC sold, it’s an opportunity to do the old “mixed use” song and dance:
A planning and architectural firm is in the early process of proposing a mixed-use development within the Historical Fort Missoula District, including the preservation and use of the old post hospital.
While the project remains in design, it would cover roughly 5 acres of private land within the district, including the post hospital, the old nurse’s quarters and a shed. It also includes a parcel of undeveloped land adjacent to the hospital.
“Maintaining this as a place for the public is crucial,” David Hoffman of Tres Birds planning told members of the Historic Preservation Commission this week. “The hospital is the primary structure. It’s one of most historic buildings on the site. We want to restore it as close as we can to its traditional design intent.”
And for residents of the Bridge Apartments on West Broadway, it’s an opportunity to be used as emotionally potent poker chips in financial negotiations that could see a public financing DOUBLE TAP used to save this housing from gentrification:
The potential sale of an apartment building constructed years ago for affordable housing has city and county officials looking for ways to buy the property, which is listed for $2.19 million.
But some elected officials are concerned about using public money to purchase a project that was initially built with public funds. Essentially, the property’s owner, Western Montana Mental Health Center, could benefit twice, all on the public dime.
“There’s something hard to swallow about a large facility purchased twice with public money, which looks like something we’re about to do,” said Commissioner Josh Slotnick.
Yes, there IS something hard to swallow about all this, like Democrats blaming every problem in Missoula on state Republicans while conveniently forgetting the previous Governor’s legacy of balancing the budget on the backs of the poor and disabled.
For now, the demonization of Western Montana Mental Health will help keep the focus on a mental health service provider (that just lost a Missoula County contract) and NOT the virtue-signaling politicians buying up election properties while lamenting the sale of disability-friendly housing.
But will this focus remain, or will Missoulians recall our recent history and ask tough questions of our illuminated braintrust and their feigned victimhood status at the hands of mean Republicans?
Only time will tell, so stay tuned…