SID Rashomon

by Rebecca Schmitz
There are two different stories out there about the special improvement district tax, or SID, proposed for Hillview Way as reported in the Missoulian. Keila Szpaller has one version:

“I’m going to probably have to sell my house,” said Linda Frey, who has lived in the neighborhood more than 30 years and owns roughly 10 acres she never planned to develop. The Missoula City Council is considering a special improvement district, or tax, that would affect some 1,000 properties in the area. If the tax is approved, Frey said she would be hit with a $65,000 assessment. And that would price her out of a neighborhood where she planned to retire.

Personally, I know I would have a meltdown if I saw that figure on a tax bill, a credit card bill, or any kind of bill, really. The article continues:

As proposed, the tax is estimated to run property owners anywhere from $10 to $27 a month. Most principal assessments range from $1,000 to $5,000, so Frey’s cost is higher than most. Frey, however, said the assessment is calculated as though she planned to develop her acreage. One idea aired to soften the blow is a tax deferment, but Frey doesn’t believe that would help. Accruing interest would only increase the bottom line. And she said like many people, her home is her only asset.

When I first read this, I was angry for Frey. Who’s walking or biking up Hillview Way on a regular basis? $65,000? Are they kidding me? What are people on limited incomes supposed to do? But then the latest edition of Ward Three Councilman Bob Jaffe’s Missoulagov Digest appeared in my e-mail inbox. Councilman Jaffe has another version of the Hillview Way SID.

Linda Frey’s situation is exactly what we were concerned about when we created the deferment program for this project. If she has no plans to develop her property she will never pay a dime towards this SID. She owns ten acres up on the hill. If she does plan to develop in the future the sale of a single 5400 square foot lot will pay off her obligation along with any interest accrued. The statement that she never plans to build but isn’t interested in the deferment because it accrues interest does not make sense to me. The interest is only of consequence if she develops. But at that time there would be an awful lot of money on the table and this would be only one of a number of significant infrastructure investments she would have to make. I would guess developing ten acres of hillside property to city standards would come with at least a million dollars of infrastructure improvements (at least at the rates the City pays for everything). The $65,000 towards Hillview way needs to be kept in perspective.

The article really could have used a more balanced presentation of the deferment program. The council is very concerned about the SID driving the conversion of open space property. I believe we have come up with a fair solution.

Another thing that came out in committee was that the bike lanes do not come at any extra cost since that space is needed for a breakdown lane anyway. Its just an extra stripe of paint. Also keep in mind that there is a school at the top of this hill. There is no reason kids can’t walk to school when they live close by just because there is a four or five percent grade. Hell, its only up hill one way.

The article reads as if the author’s intent is to foment a sense that the city is out to ruin people. Right up there with police and fire is the city’s obligation to build and maintain infrastructure. None of these essential services come cheap.

Bob Jaffe

Many years ago, I received a degree in history from the University of Montana. Linda Frey, as in Professor Linda Frey, Ph.D. of the history department, is a brilliant teacher. I never took any classes from her–her field is early modern Europe and mine was the American West–but I have a few close friends and fellow history grads who consider her one of their mentors. I can’t imagine Dr. Frey got her facts wrong. I’m sure Councilman Jaffe knows what he’s talking about. That leaves one corporate newspaper responsible for not getting both sides of this story.

  1. ayn rand

    I’ll bet there is another version somewhere, I am not a fan of Jaffe. The whole story probaly hasn’t come out yet.

  2. Exactly, Ayn!

    The whole version certainly wasn’t in the paper yesterday.

  3. Francisco d'Anconia

    I was wondering about that Missoulian story. The whole perception that bike lanes were raising the bottom line didn’t seem to add up. How much of the $10-27/month is all that extra paint really going to add up to? Seems to me the bigger cost will be correcting the many serious drainage issues that stretch of road currently has.

  4. This is what happens when you, as a homeowner, decide to buy a house or property in an area of town with only one point of functional egress (like Miller Creek) or in dire need of improvements. Sooner or later you’ll be hit with the costs of improving or fixing those problems. Wouldn’t you, as a homeowner, rather pay for those costs upfront as part of the higher purchase price with a better planned development than a (granted, disputed) $65,000 SID years later on the back end?

    Impact fees–do you want to pay them now or later, and where do your City Council members stand?

  5. noodly appendage

    An SID issues bonds to pay for an improvement and assesses to pay back the bonds, with interest. It has a repayment schedule. How does a never paid $65,000 assessment fit into that bond repayment schedule? Does the city pay it, and carry a receivable on its books, or what?

  6. ayn rand

    I want to have the “bike brake repair station” at the bottom of Hillview Way. That may not be a profitable business since there may be no more that three bike per day coming down.

  7. I think if you combined that with an espresso hut, you’d strike gold.

  1. 1 Don Nicholson Wants $65,000 from You « 4&20 blackbirds

    […] or not the final Hillview Way assessment is correct, I’m sure Dr. Linda Frey can tell you all about the consequences of shortsighted planning. Depending on the size of their […]

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