Are SIDs dead?

by jhwygirl

Are Special Improvement Districts dead in Missoula? That’s the talk, at least this week, in city hall.

In a foreboding statement during Tuesday night’s planning board meeting, board member Wayne Chamberlain made the prediction during a philosophical discussion on SID’s during the hearing for the Clark Fork Terrace #2 subdivision.

The discussion centered on some members discontent with the city’s requirement of an SID waiver on the plat – and the fairness of requiring the waiver, when certain developers were required to make improvements, and how the last developer in line benefits from the infrastructure of others.

Then on Wednesday, during the Public Works committee hearing and lengthy discussions on the Hillview Way SID and the proposed deferral program, Jon Wilkins made a motion to deny the city’s 542nd SID. Surprisingly, after what Ward 2 councilman Bob Jaffe described as a “challenging discussion”, the SID was denied, 7-1, with Ward 6’s Ed Childers being the lone “nay” for denial.

There’s lots to be said about SID’s, their future, the pros, the cons – and you can read this interesting discussion at Jaffe’s MissoulaGov listserv.

One of the things that have been pondered – one of the first things I thought of – was this: What about all the previous SID’s? Do we refund that money? How does the city move towards a new funding system?

I wonder how we will prioritize these SID’s? Roadway and transportation improvements are slow in coming to begin with – now do we have to deal with politics when it comes to what neighborhood sees improvement first? He/She who yells loudest?

IF city SID’s are dead – and this would be a pretty unusual move as SID’s are a tool used by communities all over the state – Missoula is going to have to place greater pressure on local and federal legislatures for state and federal funding $. They’ll have to institute some sort of gas tax (yep, a new tax folks) , and utilize more of our already stretched general funds to get projects done.

Anyone want to believe that anyone on council is going to want to vote for a new tax? Hell, Engen suggested a nominal sales tax 2 years ago and that idea went over well. Like a rock falling in one. {plop}

I found one exchange particularly interesting during the Public Works committee hearing. Public Works Director Steve King was asked to explain how a 100 unit senior living unit could be taxed the same as Mrs. X’s undeveloped property. He explained that the SID is assessed based on the development potential of the property – so Mrs. X’s property was large enough to support the same level of development as that of the senior living unit.

He went on to explain further – that SID’s had to be that way, as there had to be some way of evenly assessing for the needed improvements.

City Administrator Bruce Bender stepped in at some point, as King was being barraged by questions by Dick Haines.

Bender: (paraphrased) “This is the way it has been done. This method has been used all over the state, and it is legally defensible. It is fair…..What you are suggesting, I think, amounts to the City playing banker for developers – and I don’t think you want to get into that.”

Haines quickly replied to Bender’s “I don’t think you want to get into that” with this: “I’m not sure that I agree with you.”

So what was Haines saying? That the city should be playing banker and subsidizing development? Development – residential in this case – is in such dire shape in this community that taxpayer dollars are needed to help out?

More importantly, is Haines saying that instead of developers paying for the infrastructure burden that it places on the community, new home buyers should directly pay for it by picking up the tab along with the new mortgage that they take on upon purchase?


Look for an interesting discussion tomorrow night. City Council meetings are on MCAT – and this might be one you won’t want to miss. I’d like to think, before they kill SID’s all together that they at least take an honest attempt at lining up and assessing funding sources and the potential amounts of cash that’ll be available.

And how much they’ll need to add in new taxes, community wide.

  1. goof houlihan

    Extremely interesting discussion and article for local govt wonks. Thank you. I think SIDS are not dead, and have to be part of the mix along with road impact fees, and a Billings-style arterial special assessment city wide district.

    There is a county gas tax option available. Even if the County Commissioners had the gumption to impose one, would they share it with the cities? Doubtful.

    I STILL have questions about the deferral program, which I believe is accurately described as the city playing banker for the deferred properties. I can tell you that such a program is NOT used by all cities or all counties for RIDs. It’s rare that any local govt. would have such a large SID/RID reserve that would allow it to make the yearly payments for a lot of properties and still maintain the legal minimum. I do believe Ed made reference to some kind of large balance that gave Missoula the ability to have such a program.

    Was the motion really a motion to deny?

  2. Interesting article. Thanks for bringing up the issue.

    One correction: City Council will not be meeting on November 12 because of the Veteran’s Day holiday. Stay tuned for next week though.

  3. It was a motion to deny the Hillview SID. While Jaffe had worked hard to put together a deferral, there was a vocal group of people who opposed it no matter what and had threatened to sue – sounds like you read the MissoulaGov thread – and as Heidi points out, that vocal group was about 15%.

    I feel in some way, denying this SID – denying any SID really – is like passing the buck on to the next generation of homeowners. It’s like the sewering of the Rattlesnake. Our river gets more and more nitrates passed into it, neighbors have more failures – especially in the winter – and yet some people seem to just think of it (the SID) as merely a tax. Not the improvement that they will enjoy, not the improvement that is necessary for everyone.

    No one likes taxes, except if they want to be the first to grab at it.

    No one wants to get sued – yet alone the city. I understand that. But not everyone is going to be happy all of the time. THAT is an impossible task – and it seems there is a whole lot of administrative/government decision that goes on designed to keep everyone happy.

    That might seem completely cynical.

    And to have our County Commissioners pass or increase a local option gas tax? Hell would freeze over before that happened….. (we might have one now, I don’t know.)

    What I’m trying to get across is that this discussion on Hillview seems to have led us to a path of throwing out the whole baby with the bathwater – without any real analysis of the other options out there and the likelihood of success and how things would get prioritized and how to deal with the angry mobs of SID past. Seems foolhardy.

  4. qbert

    I was wondering, does anyone know if the city used a SID to fund all of those nifty new roundabouts in the University area?

  5. It did.

    The neighborhoods like them so much that they went and asked for more – so there is another SID for the more roundabouts that will be built.

  1. 1 Tomorrow night’s City Council meeting « 4&20 blackbirds

    […] Don’t forget, either, that Dick Haines seems to believe it is the role of city government to play the role of banker for future…. […]

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