Archive for the ‘Missoula City Council’ Category

by jhwygirl

A “faux hawk”.

Gotta get noticed somehow, I guess.

Aside from the other obvious concerns that not-just-a-few have about Ryan Morton – namely, his current job as spokesperson for the Missoula Building Industry Association – how are we supposed to take seriously a candidate that would devote a interview to his hair?

Ryan Morton is also campaign manager for Ward 6 candidate Kathy Greathouse, who is challenging incumbent Councilwoman Marilyn Marler.

Guess we’ll have to endure another story about him in the Missoulian.

Maybe that’s good – don’t newspapers have to give equal time to candidates? Means we’d get two stories on each of the candidates. If that’s the case, sounds fine with me. Let’s hope the other candidates don’t waste their time talking about their hairstyle, and Missoula residents will come out on top, with more information than is typical for a primary.

Ryan Morton is challenging incumbent Councilman Dave Strohmaier for Ward 1’s city council seat.

by jhwygirl

Roy Houseman, Jr., 28, filed for Ward 2’s City Council seat today. He is challenging sitting councilman John Hendrickson. Ward 2 is a 3-way race, with Cynthia Wolken also having filed

The name should be familiar to most – Houseman is President of United Steelworkers Local 885, the union shop for Smurfit-Stone. He’s a Great Falls native who moved to Missoula in 1999, attended and graduated from UM in 2003 with a degree in English Literature and Psychology.

Houseman is just the type of person we need on council: Young and energetic – full of ideas, and willing to work hard. I mean – how many 20-somethings do you know that would run for president of their union local? How many 20-somethings would run for council? Houseman certainly is no slacker – and I certainly look forward to someone with a vision towards a better future for Missoula.

Why is Houseman running?

“I love Missoula. It’s a great community that has given me a wonderful life. I met my wife here. We bought a house in October and the community has afforded me opportunities I would never have thought imaginable. If I can give back to a growing and changing city by assisting in the administration and oversight of Missoula, well I see no reason not to run.”

Sounds about right by me…

The other races?

In Ward 1, incumbent Dave Strohmaier is being challenged by Ryan Mortan, government affairs director for the Missoula Building Industry Association.

In Ward 3, incumbent Bob Jaffe is being challenged by John Quandt.

In Ward 4, Councilman Jon Wilkins goes unchallenged. That doesn’t surprise me much…even the great curmudgeon (me) has come to kinda like the guy. Not all the time, mind you – but clearly, Wilkins isn’t operating on his own personal agenda 100% of the time or even 50% of the time – and that is a good thing.

In Ward 5, incumbent Dick Haines is being challenged by Mike O’Herron.

In Ward 6, incumbent Marilyn Marler is being challenged by Kathy Greathouse.

by jhwygirl

I’m actually going to pull this directly out of comments on my recent post titled Self-Insured Employee Health Care is a Disaster-in-Waiting. Ward 2’s Pam Walzer – who sits on a city/employee committee that regularly discusses health care insurance policy issues – has written a clarification to my previous post. I want to make sure that everyone gets to see it.

Reposted directly from Pam’s comment:

It’s taken me time to get back to this topic as I left town shortly after this was blogged and did not have the time to write an detailed response. There are several errors in the blog that I would like to correct about the City’s self-insurance plan.

1.) The city’s plan is a qualified health plan, administrated by Allegiance, that meets all requirements for “credible coverage.” When an employee or covered family member leaves the plan, they are provided with a letter indicating that they have had continuous credible coverage. In addition, the city offers COBRA for participants exiting the program.

2.) The total contribution from the city ($670) and employee ($10) of current $680/month, to be reduced to $580/month, for individual coverage is for more than health insurance. It also provides for life insurance and a wellness plan that many call to as to why the claims have been so low and the fund balance has been growing. Employees are encouraged to exercise, eat right, deal with stress, lose weight, have annual blood screenings, etc.

3.) You have said that by being self-insured, that the city is setting itself up to serious financial peril in the event of a catastrophic illness or injury. That is a valid concern and that is why the city also purchases “stop-loss insurance.” In the event a covered member has over $130,000 in expenses per year, the costs are picked up by a separated insurer. If a covered person has a $1,000,000 year, the city’s plan only pays the first $130,000 (after deductible, etc). The cost of this stop-loss insurance is included in “The Plan’s” costs.

4.) Why not join a larger group to get better rates?The city has the option to join the health insurance benefit plans through the Montana Municipal Insurance Authority (MMIA), which covers several other cities throughout the state. If we did, we would see an INCREASE in our rates as we are the big fish in the pond. As bad as our health care costs are in Missoula, they are less than those around the state. In fact one city (I can’t remember now if was Bozeman, Helena, or Kalispell) just dropped their self-insurance option and joined the MMIA with an increase of around 17% in cost. If we joined the MMIA pool, the other cities woudl see a decrease in their rates and we would see an increase in ours.

5.) I think that it is worth while to see if the city and county can join plans. I will be working on seeing what would be the up/downsides of this idea. We do have different plans and cost breakdowns, different contribution levels for single, partner, child, family options. My first look kind of pencils out to be about equivalent – but it is worth checking into and I will.

6.) You’ve said that you think that the current costs, whether $680/ month or $580/month are excessive and that employees would do better on the open market. That might be true for young, health men, but not so much so for the entire work force. My sister works for an insurance services company in Baltimore County that provides insurance products for small companies and individuals. She has the resources to find the very best rates and plans and for her 4 person family has to pay $1400/month! That does not include life insurance or a wellness advocacy program. She thinks that $680 is a steal! Of course, I misplaced the costs that city employees pay to cover spouse/domestic partner and children, but I believe that is much less than $100/month.

7.) And maybe one of the best reasons to be self-insured is that the city is in a better position to show compassion. Those who have fought with insurance companies can vouch for the battle to resolve issues. News articles have “blown the cover” on insurance companies who pay staff bonuses to find loopholes to NOT approve benefits. The city has its own conflict resolution process to allow for benefits/bills to be covered/paid when private, for profit, insurance companies would just continue to say no.

Hope this clears up the misconceptions and misinformation about the city’s health plan.

by jhwygirl

Aww, what the hay, right? I’ll go live here when they start public comment. I expect this will be a long meeting, and probably with little council discussion with this meeting with regards to the zoning rewrite (unless they’re all willing to go home after midnight – if they’re luck!). That means most of this will be the public comment.

I’ll update as they get to it….

Roger Millar, Director of Planning & Grants, begins with a “I’ve been advised to be short and then duck,” and a powerpoint. I’m sure that’ll be available for a link…so I’m gonna save my energy.

Mayor Engen offers some information and advice on public comment. Lots of people. Gonna take a while. Hopefully he polls those in support and those not – those not wishing to, per se, speak…and clear that room out a little. I’m sure there’s scores in there that would want to just raise their hands “yea” or “nay” and head on out for dinner….

Public comment opens:
Ross Best – comments on state law and how it applies to the ordinance. Best notes that the ordinance needs to be adopted twice, per state law. It needs to be the exact same document. Can’t be changed between the first preliminary adoption and the final adoption.
Don Simmons – He and his wife in support. “What is going on is good.”
Nancy Wilson – representing ASUM Transportation. ASUM T supports the ordinance. Policy changes support more transit-oriented development and a walkable community. We can’t afford more roads and infrastructure. We need to be as efficient as possible.
Alex Taft – lives in University district. Supports new code.
Olivia Reutia – Director of ASUM off-campus renter center. Supports the ordinance. Believes that the ordinance creates baseline solutions that work for renters, students and homeowners.
Brent Campbell – President of WGM. Urges support of new ordinance. Existing ordinance is broken. New one is long overdue. Will make business environment more predictable with a better code. He hears constantly peoples concerns about weighing through the quagmire that is our zoning code. He makes money doing that for clients, but that isn’t right.
Emily May – VP of the Associated Students of the University of Montana. There to support the changes. Students do lots of good things for Missoula. Wants to encourage the city to do something that brings more affordable housing.
Jay Krielick – Board President of FireSafe Montana. Working to form a FireSafe Council. Urges the council to support the Natural Resource/Wildland Fire portion of the ordinance. Fire threat is real, and education and support is needed. Integrating social issues into resource management needs to be done to save lives and protect private property rights.
Janet Scott – Lives on S 4th St. West. City needs more smaller houses on smaller lots. Many single and childless people. Small houses use less energy and provide affordable housing. Can be very attractive. We also need more ADU’s. They help meet the demand for affordable housing – both for renters and owners. It would help me, for example, stay in my home. Helps prevent those “bad renters.” The regs are written well. Less traffic and air pollution. Less cost for services. Easier use of public transportation.
Lori Davidson – Missoula Housing Authority. Access to affordable housing is a community-wide responsibility. Stable affordable housing is the basis for a stable community. Speaking on behalf of renters. Lots of ’em out there. Most of them dream of ownership. Housing prices are still high, even in the economic downturn. Still an unrealistic dream. Need to start thinking differently. Need to welcome all kinds of homes. We’re spoiled in the west to think that we can go out forever – that there will be land forever. Need to focus our efforts on the future. Zoning rewrite gives us the opportunity to address these issues. It doesn’t have everything I wanted. I live in the B zone – and I call that the perfect zone. ADUs are common place. It’s a healthy mix of housing options. I’m willing to compromise because doing nothing is not an option.
Jan Holm – Was on advisory group that worked on this. Some of the things she recommended are in this document. Her view is different than that which has been heard. Wants to talk about ADUs. These are controversial. Many people fear things: neighborhood council meetings – planning board meetings. People are concerned about ADUs becoming a replacement for PNCs. Alley houses. More rentals. No limit to number of occupants. No owner-occupied stipulation. Have been put only in single-family neighborhoods. People are overwhelmingly against ADUs and asks that they be removed from the table for 2 years.
Lane Cottington – Board member of SAVE. Here to comment on sign portion of ordinance. Has 6 suggestions – all illuminated signs be turned off at night. Small loophole about window signs about measurement. Section on variances needs to be strengthened and clarified. Mini billboards should be banned. Billboard section is confusing and poorly written. Should make it clear that they are banned. Electronic signs – dynamic displays – this new tech has been creeping in – in proposed ordinance, flashing and blinking is prohibited, except for dynamic displays. Doesn’t make sense. Enforcement is going to grow to be a nightmare. Ban new electronic signs and restrict current ones to static images. There’s a message about a 8-second message. Proposes a 60-second static image. Sign ordinance ensures a level playing field.
Fern Hart Lives up the Rattlesnake. We need to appreciate the planning board. This is long hard uninteresting work (draws laughter). We might have some mistakes in this, and I’ve made mistakes, and they will be corrected. This is an excellent piece of work. I support this.
Tim Scheuwieleller – doesn’t know his zone. Supports new ordinance and clarifying the way for us to plan. Understands the concern and is happy about the platform of the new ordinance that is easy to use and understand where we are going and how we are going to plan.
Jim Parker – RLD4 zone. Looks forward to becoming a RT10. Supports new ordinance. Outreach and public investment has been magnificent. Credits OPG. Citizens have been made aware of the process. Can’t please everyone but everyone has had a chance to be pleased. Approachable document and forward thinking. Builds in flexibility and allows for predictability. Speaks to affordability and environment. Asks that wind energy options be put back into the document. Design standards are overdue. Need to put back in ADUs. Used to be a right. Seniors can stay in their homes. Or they can live closer to their own families in their back yards. Pedestrian overlays are good. Appreciates the clustering and conservations portions. Will protect water and air quality.
Dick Barrett – HD93 Appearing as board member for SAVE. Wants to address one aspect of controlling signs. For 39 years was an professor of economics at UM. Understands concerns that restricting signs discourages business – at the same time, he suggests looking at other communities around the U.S. that have banned electronic signs and you will not see a negative effect on the business community. The reason is that we are playing a zero-sum game. There’s a certain amount of business that’s going to be done – but if a sign gets someone new business it’s simply because it’s taking business away from another. We’re just passing the pie around – a zero-sum game. In pure self-defense, the people that don’t have an electronic sign are going to have to get one and the rest of us are going to have to live with it. It is a cost to the local economy as a result of this escalation.
Heather McMillan – Here to support and sat on citizen advisory committee. While not all of the tools she wanted to see are included, she supports it.
Linda Frey – Ordinance violates the most basic tenant. Imposed by social engineering. We’ve asked the wrong questions. Kept from public at large. Not driven by beautifying the city, nor of safeguarding property values. All about increasing density. Admittedly there are problems with the current. We have given too many exemptions. Has there been adequate public input. The presentations were misleating, and orwellian overtoned. Most council didn’t attend…”and on other occasions some listened to the public with the same air as that of a psychiatric nurse tolerating a rambunctious patient.” Says language is confusing. Doesn’t like overlay. Always thought carte blanche was always interesting when given to a women – but not to a city. This is a rezoning. Beware the law of unintended consequences. Will expedite urban sprawl. Smart growth is anything but. “It violates the tacit agreement between those who bought in this area and expected the neighborhood to look somewhat as it did. Many who chose to live in Missoula do NOT want to reach out and touch someone, except, as the Mayor knows, via cell phones. If this passes, goodbye Garden City, for the gardens will be lost.” We will cry “foul” as well as f-o-w-l, for all the chickens will be packing up. Let everyone vote on it.
Continue Reading »

by jhwygirl

Via Missoulian reporter Keila Szpaller’s Twitter – looks like Mayor Engen did a partial veto, allowing calls and hands-free, but keeping texting illegal.

Council has a week to consider.

UPDATE: Engen calls for texting to be a primary offense. I’ll link to the letter when it becomes available.

by Pete Talbot

The Salcido Center — a downtown daytime hangout for the homeless — was up for a hearing in a city government committee meeting. Apparently, it’s running short on funding and could use some help.  Salcido Center staff was asking the council to sign a letter asking the state for a grant.

First, kudos to the Baptists. They allow their facility at 308 W. Pine St. to be used for the daytime drop-in center. Dare I say it? It’s very Christian of them.

On the flip side of the coin is Councilwoman Renee Mitchell, Ward 5.  According to her, the folks using the Salcido Center want to be homeless and this place enables them.  Yup.  The homeless enjoy their addictions and dysfunctions and the traumas in their lives that have put them in their situations. And they love sleeping on the street. 

I’ve walked by the center a few times and I’m impressed.  On nice days, there are a few individuals outside catching a smoke. Otherwise, they’re inside: reading, resting, chatting with one another.  This place must make downtown business owners happy — fewer homeless hanging out in front of their shops, or in the alleys, or various parks and green spaces around the downtown area.  I imagine it makes the cops happy, too.  Plus, as I said earlier, it’s the Christian thing to do,

It should be noted that Ms. Mitchell was the only council member to NOT sign the letter.  (Councilwoman Hellegaard was absent.)  

Unfortunately, Ms. Mitchell isn’t up for election this year.

By the way, I got this news from the city’s listserve, produced by Ward 3’s Bob Jaffe.  It’s an invaluable site.

by jhwygirl

I’ve mentioned this before in comments and it has been met with agreement, but it bears worthy of repeating: The self-insured nature of both the city and the county’s health care coverage is a huge huge disaster-in-waiting.

Missoula Red Tape’s post is what is prompting this, although I was tempted with this post from Ward 3’s Bob Jaffe’s listserve from back in May.

And so I’m clear, when I’m speaking about the city and the county being self-insured, I’m talking about the city and the county taking what they contribute towards each employee and putting into their own bank account, essentially, and then paying the bills as they come in. In this case – just so I’m clear – the city and the county’s ‘pool’ of money are separate. They are not merged together for that slightly larger pool of members….which is pretty ridiculous, in and off itself, but more on that below.

From Jaffe’s post, the city contributes about $680 per month per employee. From Missoula Red Tape’s post, the city gets $10 per month in employee contribution. Now – I don’t know the amount of insurance, specifically, that people are getting, but a direct cost of $680/person is pretty steep. Employees should be getting 4-diamond health care for that price, and more (dental, eye, life, enhanced disability, etc.,…. but I strongly suspect that isn’t the case (although I’m not insinuating that it is horrible insurance, either.)

The thing is, a city employee could take that kind of money and buy a considerable amount of insurance under a ‘normal’ policy for that kind of money. The self-insured nature of the city’s operation means that they need to bank that money, and then pay some agency to manage the policy as the city has written it. That agency reviews claims and pays them out as requested. T-r-o-u-b-l-e. What about a catastrophic accident where a St. Pat’s helicopter, life support and several surgeries are needed? Say two of those in one year? Big trouble.

And don’t think that hasn’t happened to either the city or the county – where they’ve had to adjust their policy, cutting coverage just to make ends meet – just to keep their own self-insured pool upright.

Self-insure is a self-perpetuating nightmare. It’s very hard to transition over to a ‘normal’ insurance pool (say Blue Cross/Blue Shield Montana or NewWest or Allegiance) because of the ‘pre-existing condition’ clause that would interface, likely, for a year. But failure to act might be far more costly than trying to continue to maintain this self-insured policy.

U.S. is talking health care. It doesn’t taken an Einstein to know that the more people in the pool, the less costly the insurance. I don’t know how many people the city insures, but it sure isn’t the number like those that are employed at the University or for the State of Montana – and why the city wouldn’t negotiate to join in with that pool of providers…well, I can’t see how it wouldn’t make sense.

A smart person (and a good negotiator) – instead of wanting $10 more a month from each employee – might find far greater savings in seeking to transition from self-insured to some larger insurance pool. Because any year can be that next bad year. Let’s just hope it isn’t FY2010.

Hell – I bet there’s a savings to be accomplished just joining together both the city and the county health insurance as one pool.

Now that’s some crazy talk, no?

by jhwygirl

Monday night’s city council meeting brings the much talked about and much debated vote on banning the use of a cell phone when operating a motorized vehicle. The motion on the agenda (the results of this Wednesday’s Public Works Committee vote) is to deny the ordinance.

The issue was prompted by Ward 1’s Dave Strohmaier, who, if I recall correctly, was nearly tagged by a driver who was using their cell phone. The public has been pretty outspoken on this issue, and much like council, feelings run pretty passionate on both sides of the issue.

I go back and forth. Glad I don’t have to vote. On one hand, we got plenty of laws – plenty of them that go unenforced. If we’re going to have laws, they need to be pro-actively enforced. Or at least “primary” offenses.

Ever try and get the junk vehicle code enforced? It’s impossible – and I’d suggest, based on my experience, that the city/county health department spends more time trying to figure out how not to enforce the ordinance then enforcing the thing. Go ahead, give ’em a call on a vehicle that’s been sitting for years in your neighborhood and see what happens.

We’ve got laws, already, that make using the cell phone and driving illegal – it’s called distracted driving. But on the other hand, proponents will say that we’ve got laws against drunk driving. I suppose that is derived out of the need to educate the public to the specific danger. And I do buy that, for sure.

Some councilors say they may vote for the ban if it is a secondary offense – or if it exempts people on bikes. I can’t understand either of those exceptions. Going at it as a secondary offense doesn’t do crap and puts it at the level that it currently is as distracted driving…it other words, the only time it’d be an offense would be if the driver caused and accident and admitted to using the phone. Police are – I am told – to busy to pull call records on every driver involved in an accident.

Exempting people on bikes – are you kidding me? What about me, the driver, behind the wheel, who hits a person on a bike who is talking on their cell phone? The effects of car versus bike are likely to be much more deadly than car versus car. It’s a dingbat exception derived out of some overly-compensating need to make Missoula bike friendly, and has nothing to do with safety.

Which is where this all started, no?

So here is sit, having written, real Missoulian editorial-like and all, going back and forth on the issue. LOL. But in an effort to actually land on a position, here it is:

If you are going to ban cell phones while driving – and many cities and towns and counties and even a state or two has done it – ban ’em. Ban ’em for cars and motorcycles and bikes. Make it a primary offense, and tell the police to proactively get out there on enforcing this thing for a while to let people know that it will be enforced. Maybe hand out warnings for a month.

Anything less, fuggetabout it.

by jhwygirl

I must say I’ve been remiss in my normal scrutiny of city council’s doin’s – for some time now – but I did happen to catch the ‘comments from council’ portion of last Monday’s public hearing, and I was left wondering a couple of things…

There were some comments criticizing the anonymous zoning petition. What I heard was a criticism of the anonymous nature of the thing…but the thing is, the Indy’s Jesse Froehling revealed about a month ago that Dick Haines, John Hendrickson, and about 3 or 4 more (as in “probably 5 or 6 of us”) were involved in the now not-so-anonymous petition.

That wasn’t the first time I had heard about the “anonymous” petition. People don’t read the Indy? I’ve had, probably all told, at least 5 people approach me about that anonymous petition. People: Read the Indy! I do, and I’m smarter for it.

Pete did a post on the anonymous petition, which included a link to the office of planning & grants’ response to the petition.

I also caught some ranting by Ward 2’s John Hendrickson, on the subject of last year’s budget – the semantics of whether he had proposed specific cuts or whether he had proposed some sort of concerted plan or talking points. First my mind went to “last year’s budget???” but then as he continued, I wondered how he could put forth such a blatant untruth. We blogged here last year about the specific randomness of Hendrickson’s proposed cuts….and even live-blogged the FY2009 budget approval hearing – much of which is verbatim – which illustrates the thoughtfulness behind Ward 2 Councilperson John Hendrickson’s approach to last years budget.

John Hendrickson has, too, an issue with the Indy, but as this past week’s editorial points out, Hendrickson’s issue is likely one that is in search of his own political capital via bashing on the feigned inaccuracies of the Indy more so than it is about the budget or actually getting some work done.

If anything, Hendrickson’s mayoral bubble has been burst – not that he ever had a chance – and quite possibly his own re-election. Someone is to blame, and for Hendrickson, that someone is the Indy.

On the other hand – it’s budget season, everyone! That means, it’s time for John Hendrickson to shine. Gonna free me up some room on that DVR, ’cause we’re always up for some good quotes during budget discussions!

by Pete Talbot

(As usual, jhwygirl beat me to the punch here. I have some additional links and comments, though, on the petition drive.)

Please, before signing the anonymous petition that’s spreading fear and misinformation about Missoula’s zoning rewrite, get the facts. Here is an information sheet from the Office of Planning and Grants. Here’s the petition (note the clever graphic of the small boy mowing the lawn while a skyscraper is erected in his backyard). Fact One: no person or group is taking responsibility for the petition. That should be a clue.

One of the comments on the Missoula City listserve was this:

Bob (Jaffe, Ward 3 Councilman), I suggest the petition is nothing more than politics-as-usual…and has little to do with the proposed zoning code. Roger (Millar, of OPG) and OPG and Duncan Associates needn’t spend time and energy in responding.

There’s an election coming up. Wedge issues are being formed. The petition is quite explicit about who’s being set up as targets: “Mayor Engen, city planners, and City Council members who advocate greater density.” Those who sign the petition are simply being asked (a) to invest themselves into political positions and (b) to provide contact information to political campaigns.

This statement is very accurate, but I’d also suggest that whoever is circulating this petition believes that the zoning rewrite is the death knell for neighborhoods and is trying to get others just as scared. OPG, the mayor’s office and council should respond.

In her post, jhwygirl poses the question as to whether the anonymous petition is violating campaign law. I’m no lawyer (collective sigh of relief) but I’ve been involved in a few campaigns. At this point, since the petition isn’t aimed at a candidate or issue that’s on any ballot, I’d say no. However, if it is used as an organizing tool to raise money, elect or defeat candidates, or sway opinion on a ballot issue in the upcoming municipal elections, then whoever is behind the petition would need to file as a political action committee.

by Pete Talbot

Not really. But Ward 3 Councilman Bob Jaffe employed his wry wit to kick off a serious discussion of Missoula’s marijuana laws.

This morning we started the day at 8:00 am with alcohol and marijuana. First we approved the purchase of a bunch of field sobriety kits, motorcycle and in-car video camera systems, and funding for the underage drinking prevention program … “

Jaffe then went on to explain that Initiative 2, which was passed by Missoula voters in 2006 and was meant to make possession of small amounts of marijuana a low priority for law enforcement, didn’t affect city (or university) police.

And he gave a well-reasoned explanation as to why this initiative should also apply to city law enforcement. First, his entire comment is below the fold. Second, at the end of his comment, he has a cool map you can click on that shows how Missoula’s precincts voted on this initiative. Third, and I don’t know how many times I’ve said it, if you’re interested in Missoula politics, you have to subscribe to this site (which covers city council committee meetings and other city business).

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by jhwygirl

Via Councilman Bob Jaffe’s listserve, a letter from Roger Millar, Director of the Office of Planning & Grants, to City Council:

A concerned citizen provided us with a copy of a petition being circulated in the community by an anonymous group to protest the proposed new zoning code. The flyer that accompanies these petitions employs misleading statements about the proposal. Duncan Associates and Office of Planning and Grants staff have prepared the attached fact sheet to provide clarity. I thought this information would be useful to you as you discuss the zoning code rewrite with your constituents.

Please let me know if you would like additional detail.

Isn’t this sort of political activity regulated?

Pretty darn sure it is

People might want to be saving emails…and some motivated person might want to get after filing a complaint with Montana’s Commission of Political Practices – since by the time he gets to it, it might be another 2+ years or more.

The pro-Walmart/Walmart group in Ravalli county that successfully beat an emergency interim zoning ordinance that prohibited big-box stores? Complaints filed during the 2006 election were decided by Dennis Unsworth in January 2009.

In fact, the Commission of Political Practice’s docket has got a whole bunch of 2006 complaints on it that are either still under investigation or pending hearing.

by Pete Talbot

After a pitcher of Badlander IPA, the mayor and the planners relaxed, and then gave a concise and passionate argument for the Missoula Zoning Rewrite.

The title of the event sucked me in: “Everybody Must Get Zoned.” But it turned out to be a straight-forward look at the zoning process and policy, and what Missoula could be in the future.

Missoula’s zoning laws, except for some tweaking here-and-there, are 30-to-50-years-old — based on an Ozzie and Harriet family model. The demographics in Missoula, however, have changed.  Now, 22 percent are single family, and then there’s the rest of us (mixed families, singles, empty-nesters, students, retired) but we’re still zoned like it’s the 1950’s.

OPG Director Roger Millar and senior planner Mike Barton were with the mayor at the invitation of Forward Montana. It was informal, about 35 people at the Badlander: politicos, seniors, organizers, students and folks like me.

Mayor Engen reminded everyone that it’s been a two-year, open-to-the-public, process. All points of view are in play and there are no deal breakers. Millar spoke to the history of zoning — laws that basically said ‘no’ to how we develop instead of ‘yes’ to what we’d like to see. Barton talked about specifics and how the rewrites would make laws clearer.

All three speakers have been around the block, understand Missoula, and have a vision for what’s going to sustain and enhance our community.

To hear the critics, the proposed zoning changes would have a radical impact on our neighborhoods. What I heard seemed pretty mild to me: minor changes in lot size and density calculations and height allowance, etc.; maybe some B&B’s, and accessory dwelling units here-and-there. The kind of things forward-looking cities have been doing for awhile.

I didn’t take my notebook, again, so I’m paraphrasing at best. I needed to get out of the house, have a beverage and catch up on local stuff, so this was a good diversion on a late March, wintry evening. I’m glad I went and was encouraged by what I heard.

Please folks, get involved. Here’s the info, and if you can’t make it to a planning meeting or talk to your ward representative or go to a PAZ committee meeting, at least you can comment. This is an opportunity to shape the future of Missoula.

by Pete Talbot

Over at Missoula Red Tape, Keila Szpaller hints that Missoula Councilman John Hendickson might make a run for mayor.

Please, please let it be true. We’ve posted on Ward Two’s Councilor a few times here, here and here, for starters.

I can’t think of a more divisive, thoughtless, regressive and downright mean-spirited member on city council. This would be a cakewalk for sitting Mayor Engen.

Szpaller notes that Hendrickson did refile for his old ward seat and may actually be happy in that position. So if he’s not running for mayor, I’m praying someone will take him on in Ward Two. They’d be doing that ward and the city a huge favor.

The municipal primary election is Tuesday, Sept. 8 and the general election is Tuesday, Nov. 3. It may seem early to talk about local elections but before you know it, they’re upon us.

by Pete Talbot

Missoula cats

Cats bring out the same sort of passion that folks usually reserve for dogs and guns. Just witness the traffic on the unofficial Missoula municipal listserv.

If you’re not a subscriber of this very informative service, go here. And here’s the new ordinance language. (I’ve also copied some of the comments below the fold).

The gist of the ordinance is to cut down on the number of reproducing cats by encouraging spaying and neutering, and requiring a breeder’s license for folks who have more than five felines. This is a good idea and will, I hope, reduce the number of cats that have to be euthanized because they’ve been abandoned, or are feral or just out cruising.

The Missoulian’s Keila Szpaller tells us the ordinance is headed back to committee. While the cat ordinance may not generate the clever copy that the chicken ordinance did, I imagine we’re in for a number of stories on the subject over the next few weeks. There’s going to be some new language suggested for the dog ordinance, too.

Bankruptcy, Baucus and Rehberg

The 2005 Bankruptcy Bill was bad for consumers and a godsend for the banks. Fortunately, congress could be looking at some reform in that law.

Former Montana resident and current political columnist David Sirota writes about a new bankruptcy bill. It would start in the U.S. House, and it will be telling to hear Republican Rep. Denny Rehberg’s input, if any, on the bill. Denny actually had a couple decent votes at the end of the last congressional session (‘no’ on the bailout, for example), breaking a string of horrendous votes.

If it makes it through the House, Democratic Sen. Max Baucus will have a significant role as Finance Committee Chairman. He voted for the 2005 Bankruptcy Bill. Let’s hope he does better on a new bill.

And I’m betting that our other senator, Jon Tester (D), will do what’s best for consumers if a bill comes around. Congratulations, by the way, on your Appropriations Committee appointment, Jon.

(It should be noted that Rehberg is back to form. A recent roll call of his votes this session includes: a vote against women [wage discrimination – HR 12] and a vote for derailing bills [H Res 5]. Is it too soon to start looking for his 2010 opponent? I don’t think so.)


I didn’t realize what a hot ticket the inauguration is. It sounds like a helluva party. Hotels are booked solid and DC residents are renting out their spare rooms to the masses.

Montana’s governor and members of congress will all be riding horseback in the parade, along with members of the Crow Nation.

My ticket must have gotten lost in the mail so I’ll probably head down to the Elks Lodge instead, around 7 p.m. Here are some details.

Continue Reading »

by jhwygirl

Oh Lord…where to begin?

Let’s start: It’s Montana! It’s going to snow! Slow the ^#*% down!

How’s that for starters?


I can not BELIEVE that people are calling Mayor’s office to complain and city council members are chastising his office for his so-called poor handling of the matter.

Snow?! Are you kidding me? Seriously? We’ve got Gaza being bombed, U.S. soldiers under attack in Iraq and Afghanistan, China torturing prisoners, toxic radioactive coal sludge polluting an area right here in the USA – an area larger than the Valdez spill which has yet to be cleaned up, people dying for lack of healthcare, the economy in the toilet, AND electronic signs going up on South Avenue right across from historic Fort Missoula and people are complaining about snow piles in the middle of the road?!

How frickin’ self-centered can we be?

How’s about this? If there is a snow pile in the middle of the road and you are having trouble getting in your driveway because of it …. DRIVE AROUND THE BLOCK.

OR, better yet – park your car and go into your garage and grab your shovel and get rid of that annoying snow pile in the middle of the road. The exercise’ll do you good.

Me? I actually kinda like those snow piles in the middle of the road. It makes me feel safer from the idiots driving around like it’s the middle of the summer. If they’re going to do a 360 in the middle of the road because they’re driving too fast, at least let them stay on their side of the road.

Here’s some other tips:
#1 – The stopping distance to that stop sign up ahead just got longer. It’s not 25 feet – it’s something like a hundred. Again – slow the ^#*% down. That helps. Tremendously.
#2 – Start s-l-o-w-l-y at that stop sign. I can not BELIEVE how many idiots I see hitting the gas like some brainless video-playing fools. Know what? Those spinning tires are making ice.
#3 – See #1 – because some idiot – about a dozen of ’em in the last 3 hours, in fact – just cruised up to that stop sign like it was July 1st and hit the brakes and made ice.

We aren’t halfway through winter, yet we are $9,000 into our $15,000 overtime snow removal budget. See where this is going?

SLOW DOWN! It works and it’s less expensive. Trust me. McDonalds and Walmart will still be there.

If you’re going to call the Mayor to complain, forget about the snow because YOU SHOULD BE SLOWING DOWN and instead, tell him we need some affordable housing.

by jhwygirl

…but one does have to wonder what he had to say after he hung up on Missoulian reporter Keila Szpaller when she asked about the city’s budget.

Apparently it’s not yet been filed with the State of Montana (what does that make it? 6 months overdue?)

Bad, bad form, hanging up on a reporter.

And before anyone considers mention of the hang-up a focus on the “controversy” versus the facts, me thinks that any public official hanging up on a reporter is a well-worthy piece of news, especially when the reporter was trying to get the facts.

So what’s there to hide? Why hang up on a reporter? Why isn’t the budget filed yet? What is the problem?

We’re promised a story for Thursday’s Missoulian. Looks like it’s popcorn for breakfast, folks.

UPDATE: We update today with a link to the story and note that not just the city, but the county, too, that has failed to file its budget. At least Missoula’s consistent, huh?

by Pete Talbot

Since it’s the holidays and all, I thought I should play nice. But then, silly me, I surfed some conservative blog sites. They’re coming to the defense of poor Jane “let’s throw a wrench in the works” Rectenwald.

Ms. Rectenwald has been in the news lately, alleging that the Missoula Office of Planning and Grants Director Roger Millar, “upended democracy and threatened to throw her out of meetings.”

This came on the heels of a prepared speech she gave at a planning workshop – a workshop that wasn’t supposed to be a venue for prepared speeches. You can read her complaint and her speech here. The speech is so full of inaccuracies and venom that it boggles the mind.

I don’t know Mr. Millar but I’ve heard he’s an agreeable fellow who’s open to input from the community. To quote Mayor Engen, “Roger Millar is the last person I can think of who would try to stifle public comment, democracy or participation.”

I don’t know Rectenwald that well, either, although I did observe her a couple of times at City-Government Review Board meetings, where she served on the board. It seemed like she was doing her best to derail what was supposed to be a consensus-driven process.

Anyway, Rob Natelson over at Electric City Blog has a post entitled, “Petty Tyranny in Missoula” (subtle, huh?). He has this to say:

“… the citizens present were divided up into “teams.” They were told to confer among themselves and then have a team representative tell everyone else ”two good things and two bad things” about the proposed re-zoning plan. The idea, apparently, was to force people to say something good about the plan, so that could be reported later as a show of public support.”

Hey, Rob – I guess this would “force people” to say something bad about the plan, too.

Then he continues with U.S. Supreme Court/Bill of Rights rhetoric, adding, “it flatly violates the First Amendment for any government official to force a citizen to state views the citizen doesn’t believe.”

So, Rob, were they water boarding the citizens? Electrodes on their privates?

Rob goes on to state that, “a city official told her (Rectenwald) never to attend a Missoula public hearing again!” which is just plain untrue.

And Rob teaches law at UM. Scary.

Carol over at Missoulapolis picked up the beat:

“This is what is so nauseating. Instead of having straightup meetings with each comer allowed his or her say – as in the Miller Creek EIS process, for example – they have to do these “workshops” to foster the illusion of public participation and consensus. It’s a game, and you could say that Jane does not play well with others. And that’s why we like her so much here at Missoulapolis.”

Let’s see … “illusion of public participation,” “it’s a game,” “nauseating.” Tell us how you really feel, Carol. Perhaps let’s not have any public participation and just ram zoning rewrites through the council. Then let’s watch the right-wingers come unglued. They’re never happy

Rectenwald is a spokeswoman for what I call the “dumb growthers.” You know, the folks that favor sprawl and are against infill and affordable housing. They get the most fired up when those pesky university students try to find places to live close to the university.

Rectenwald is not helping the process of revisiting Missoula’s zoning ordinances — and it’s an important process. Nor is she helping her own cause. Way to go, Jane.

by jhwygirl

I can’t seem to vanquish this now untimely thought from my head, so consider this some blog-pimping self-therapy.

Last Monday’s city council voted 10-2 (Rye, Strohmaier voting nay) to approve a 90-day emergency ordinance that would allow the use of salt as deicer on Missoula’s roadways.

One would have thought something like that would have been dealt with handily and quickly, but the hearing lasted nearly an hour (maybe more) on the issue.

More than a decade ago, Missoula’s air quality rules were rewritten to prohibit the use of salt with the belief that the use of magnesium would help keep dust down and it would reduce the need for particulate-producing sand.

Now, I listened to the better part of the hearing, and I had read the pre-hearing Missoulian article on the matter, and one of the things that struck out to me is that there wasn’t any real cost analysis done on the issue.

Yep – unless I’m missing something – there was no real true cost analysis done on the matter.

During the hearing Jaffe asked about whether a cost study had been done, and staff basically reiterated what had been said in the Missoulian article. I’ll paraphrase: “Not really (in reference to the cost analysis), but what I can tell you is that the stuff (magnesium chloride) that I buy is diluted down to 30% strength. We’re basically paying for water. The salt we’d buy would be 95% salt. You do the math.”

Now – that isn’t a cost analysis.

Magnesium is $130/ton, salt is $110. Last year the city had $135,000 allocated, but spent $220,000.

Didn’t we have a big winter last year? I remember shoveling a bit more. Plus there were more than the usual ice storms.

What was the de-icing allocation the fiscal year before last year? Did the $135,000 represent a cut to the typical budget allocation?

Do some minor look-see into the issue and you’ll find that magnesium chloride is less caustic than salt. That’s pretty well known. You’ll also find that magnesium chloride is more effective at lower temperatures. That’s a plus, no?

Steve Robertson, of Missoula, points out in a Missoulian letter to the editor that “once salt is applied, more is needed to prevent liquid refreezing.”

So salt isn’t as effective as magnesium chloride at lower temperatures, and salt has to be reapplied once it melts the ice to keep from refreezing the road surface.

One thing that I couldn’t find, but you can see how the stuff works, is what is the cost-per-yard or cost-per-square mile of application? I’m talking just the product. I see the mag chloride being put down and it’s being dripped down on the roads. Salt – that stuff is tossed out at a much heavier ration that the dripping of liquid. So it appears to me – and I am admittedly no expert on the matter – that there is less mag chloride being used to cover the same area on a pound-per-pound basis. Remember – we’re buying both by the ton.

Beyond that, Missoula is going to have to retool equipment to spread salt. Now, maybe we’ve got the stuff in stash, I don’t know, but that is going to cost labor. Labor that might be better spent elsewhere. It’s a cost. Regardless.

Plus – the city doesn’t even have enough equipment to spread salt – it’ll have to phase in new equipment over the next few years to move to salt.

Further – did I mention salt is caustic? – is equipment going to break and have to be replaced at a higher rate with the use of salt?

Then I could ask what the salt is going to do to our fisheries, as opposed to magnesium. And if we’re using more salt that magnesium..well….

Regarding that – the Health Board had to make a change to its regulations for water quality to allow for the use of salt.

Read: Missoula just lowered its water quality standards so that we can use salt.

AND, the whole water quality thing’ll have to come back to the Health Board and the Missoula County Commissioners to allow for the use of salt.

Seriously? Am I reading that correctly?

Anyways…there it is. Had to get it out of my head.

by jhwygirl

The Mayor’s Housing Team team has been hard at work, and at tonight’s City Council hearing, Mayor John Engen will bring forth a resolution that will direct staff to develop implementation strategies to increase attainable housing for Missoula’s workforce.

The statistics are startling people – something most of you already know. I know I do. This link here will take you to numerous typical household scenarios here in Missoula, illustrating the gap between market housing and the household salary.

Or how about these:

– 52% of renters and 25% of homeowners in Missoula spend more than 30% of their monthly income to house themselves.

– A family making the median income in Missoula can afford a $165,000
home; the median home price for 2007 was $219,550.

– 70% of Missoulians could not afford to buy the house they live in
today if they had to buy it today.

For years now I’ve used a statement similar to the last one – asking people how much their house is worth, and then asking them if they could afford to buy it right now at that price on their current salary.

The answer is usually silence, followed by “no.”

And think about that first statistic – that 52% of renters and 25% of homeowners spend more than 30% of their income on housing. Why is that bad? Because that extra that they put into housing is less that they put into our local economy.

Not good for anyone, including local business.

For someone who makes more than 80% of the median income, but not enough to buy into market housing, the situation is all the more frustrating. A search of the Missoula Multi-Listing Service will come up with dozens of homes that are sold only to income eligible people who make 80% or less than the median income. Sure – there are many homes on the current MLS that would meet my income level – but most of them are 50+ years old, and would not meet the loan lender standards to sell to a first-time home buyer.

Beyond that, it is important for people who are scratching out their first-time home purchase to have something that isn’t falling apart – i.e., won’t need a new roof or a new water heater or even insulation. And while there is a constantly changing list of condominiums there, when looking at affordability a buyer has to consider monthly homeowners fees into that mortgage payment. So even though there are quite a bit of condos out there in a range that might seem affordable to me, the HOA fees push it into an unaffordable range.

Affordability is defined as housing that costs no more than 30% of your income – and that 30% would include fees like HOA fees, water, sewer, garbage, gas, electricity, taxes. NOT cable, phone, internet.

Even in this current housing downslump – a slump that, while it will hit (has hit) the Rocky Mountain West, will hit a lot less harder than the rest of the nation and will last a lot less shorter than the rest of the nation, because, as you know, location is everything – the market won’t provide. The amenities offered merely by living here in Montana are too strong a draw to keep our housing markets down for long.

What I appreciate in this resolution is the recognition that people making 80-125% of median are without help right now. All of the housing organizations right now provide housing for people below those levels, but the rest of us (or people like me) are left out in the cold. These are the working professionals, emergency responders, teachers, and police of Missoula.

The lack of affordable housing is affecting the ability of many businesses around town to hire and expand – engineering and surveying firms, hospitals and healthcare agencies, the university, and our police and school district – while able to attract qualified individuals to job interviews often can’t seal the deal because of the lack of homes in the market at the salaries our struggling businesses are able to afford.

How much do you want to be taxed to make sure we have basic services like police, fire and teachers?

Do you want your police, fire personnel and teachers driving from Ravalli, Mineral and Powell County?

The effect is stagnating.

You can’t buy the view.

There’s quite a few words amoungst our pages here at 4&20 regarding affordable housing. Consider checking these two out:
Affordable Housing and Firefighters
Affordable Housing for Police Only?

Or you could put “affordable housing” into the search over there on the left, and come up with this, which includes a wide mix of issues.

Consider showing up tonight letting council know you support this resolution – or, if you can’t make it, shoot the Mayor and the rest of city council an email letting them know to Get ‘Er Done.

Let these guys and gals know that Missoula’s economic stability and vitality are important to you – and that affordable housing for Missoula’s workforce is part of that mix.

by jhwygirl

Tomorrow night’s city council will be taking into consideration the approval of a Request for Proposal (RFP) for the old Fox Theater site located on Front Street – down there by the Orange Street Bridge.

You know – the site that was being contemplated as the location for the still-not-quite-dead-yet $60,000,000 Performing Arts Center? The one that I first heard about when the city tried to help along a proposal in the 2007 legislature that would have allowed school districts to issue bonds – i.e., tax – for structures that they don’t own?

Now, maybe 60 days is enough time. I’m truly putting the question out there.

It’s not a typical city lot – or even two. This property has been appraised for nearly $2 million.

Now, aside from the minor (?) problem that the actual proposal being considered isn’t available for people like you and I to view (there seems to be a glitch with the links within the minutes of the most recent Administration and Finance Committee meeting), the pre-committee meeting RFP will base its selection based on criteria like:

–The degree to which the proposed development meets an identified market needs of the community and downtown area. Proposal should present credible evidence supporting the need or market for the proposed uses. It is understood that a complete market analysis may not be possible in the timeframe of this RFP.

–Clear demonstration of the respondent’s ability to obtain financing for the project. The proposal should present verifiable evidence of the developer’s history of completing successful projects of similar cost and scope. (This part goes on to include things like a business plan, evidence of financing, and a description of the extent the project depends on federal, state and local grants, along with donations.)

It goes on, but perhaps you get the gist?

I guess I’m wondering what the hurry is? The PAC is still out there floating around, despite what some may say, and the 18 month extension that they were granted last November has yet to expire.

Any respondent – and this RFP is going out in the Seattle and Spokane newspapers, along with The Missoulian (and, according to Chris Behan, should get picked up on nationwide RFP lists) – has to consider the following, all in 60 days:

1. Missoula Riverfront Triangle Redevelopment Urban Renewal Plan
2. Missoula Riverfront Triangle Redevelopment Master Plan
3. The Riverfront Triangle Special Zoning District
4. Initial concepts of the Riverfront Triangle for the Missoula Greater Downtown Master Plan
5. Various maps and air photos of the project site showing location, infrastructure, parcel size,
ownership, etc.
6. Utility and soils information
7. Montana Laws governing transfer of public property for private use are attached to RFP.

Is it reasonable to think that decent legitimate proposals for a $2 million riverfront parcel would only take 2 months? Do we want a proposal that goes out cold on an RFP and comes back in 60 days? What kind of proposal are we going to get back?

Not that I’m a conspiracy theorist or anything, but could it be that there’s someone out there waiting in the wings with something?

Geez, come on. It’s September 2008. The markets are in shambles – and no one, realistically, is going to start anything on that site until 2010, at the earliest. At the earliest.

Give the city a fighting chance for the best possible proposal that we could get for that site. Put it out there for 6 months, at least.

by jhwygirl

I mean, just look at today’s Board of County Commissioner (BCC) Agenda.

Now, compare that to the City Council agenda.

One has links to staff reports, maps, committee reports, etc. The other just tells me that they are considering a 69 lot subdivision next to the Clark Fork River.

Which do you prefer?

A county with 2,598 square miles of land, one of the fastest growing counties in the state, and an $83.9 million budget, and they can’t see fit to provide the taxpayers with sufficient public information?

Of course, we know how they’ve enjoyed the possibility of public comment in the past. Or you could always try this post for 2 more examples of the BCC’s approach to public comment.

Maybe it’s about time they instituted a new policy – one that keeps the public informed, 21st century style?

Consider writing a letter to the editor of either The Missoulian or the Missoula Independent, and call on the BCC to let the public know more about their doings in a more informative modern way. Citizens should not have to call the office and hope someone is available to fax you a staff report or talk to you when they should be providing this stuff on their website.

Whatever materials they have to decide the matter should be available to you and I. They aren’t getting that stuff on Wednesday mornings.

Please – go ahead and write that letter – because, obviously, they appear to be internet-challenged.

And then, maybe, just maybe, news reporter Chelsie Moy might actually have something worthwhile to praise the BCC about.

by jhwygirl

Following a downright brutal Monday night city council meeting, and in what Keila Szpaller of the Missoulian called “a surprise move”, city council, approved a peer review of the Russell/3rd Street EIS during Wednesday’s Public Works committee. The EIS is currently out for review.

The Russell/3rd Street EIS was produced by HKM Engineering. Nearly all of the work HKM does is for MDOT road projects.

HKM unveiled the draft of the EIS back in April and it was not well received. Many thought it was an abrupt reversal of all information that had been both provided to the public and bythe public during the multiple neighborhood meetings held for the project.

Even in Bozeman, HKM’s work on Rouse Avenue has received much the same reception.

So horrible it was viewed, that Citizens Initiated Their Own Engineering Proposals, and Ward 3’s Councilman Bob Jaffe and Council Goddess Stacy Rye made a referral to the Public Works committee for a peer review of the project’s EIS.

What was “surprising” on Wednesday, is that Dick Haines brought forth a friendly amendment to the referral, requesting a peer review of the Miller Creek EIS. It was gladly accepted and approved on a voice vote.

The review should cost approximately $20,000.

Comments are due on the Russell/3rd Street EIS by October 20th. The thinking is that key components will be reviewed by another engineering firm to confirm (or dispute) HKM’s findings and resulting preferred alternatives. The peer review will be submitted as public comment to the document, as city council’s.

Meanwhile, don’t forget 3 Plus for Russell, which will be holding a presentation at the Rose Park neighborhood meeting on Wednesday Sept 17th at 7pm, St. Paul’s Church, 202 Brooks.

For more information on 3 Plus for Russell, email

by Pete Talbot

Jhwygirl is all over the city’s budget, particularly John Hendrickson’s (and the other “conservatives'”) proposed budget cuts.

Since I’m getting close to “senior” status myself and know quite a few seniors, this one item caused some concern:

Eliminate the Missoula Urban Transportation District’s (MUTD) Senior bus line

I actually received an unsolicited call today from a senior who said this:

“So, those council people want the seniors out there driving around? Or maybe they just want them shut up in their homes, not able to buy groceries or see their doctor?”

This guy was pissed. He said that if the council wanted a room full of angry seniors out for blood, just keep it up.

(It should be noted that the city’s budget passed last night, intact, by a seven-to-five vote. The senior’s bus service will not be cut.)

There was a host of other bad budget-cutting ideas but it’s really dumb to anger Missoula’s senior population and I’m guessing the proposed budget cuts won’t be lost on those who would have been directly affected. I believe that Hendrickson and his cohorts could be in deep doo-doo when they’re up for re-election.

by jhwygirl

Live blogging city council here. Can’t resist, as they just started budge cuts.

Hendrickson just made a motion – to place a hiring freeze on all vacancies. He didn’t even ask what the vacancies were.

Brett Ramharter: Obviously, this isn’t something that could be resolved this evening. This would have to go back to committee, because we have no clue what the real status is of these unfilled positions. I guess I need some clarification. We count on getting 2.85% in savings – the majority of that comes from personnel. That turns into about $1.2 million in savings. We budget for a year-end balance of a little over – approximately – $920,000 and with the $1.2 million in savings, we get about $2.1 million – that’s how we get there. So I guess the question that I’ve got – is this intended to just reduce the size of next years budget? Is that what we’re looking at? As opposed to get savings which are already factored in?

Hendrickson: Yes, if you take 10 positions which are unfilled and have been unfilled and factor in even just $25,000 a year – that’s $250,000, not counting benefits. That would take you well over the $300,000 mark. So instead of raising the property tax 3.5 to 4.82 that would cover the shortfall and the administrative budget of $285,000 and then some.

Brett: So as a point of clarification – this really isn’t focused on the type of savings I was discussing – this is just designed to make the budget smaller by $300,000+.

Hendrickson: OK

Walzer: So if I understand this correctly, Mr. Hendrickson wants to reduce the staff by 10 positions. We don’t know what the positions are. We don’t know how the work is being done now. I know in places I’ve worked before, empty positions are often filled with overtime, which is costly and also difficult on employees – or even worse, being required to get the work done for more than one employee in just 40 hours. I think it’s unwise to just ax 10 employee positions that are open at the moment. That’s what I’m hearing Mr. Hendrickson say. I think the city’s done an overall good job of looking at the turnover rate and incorporating that into the budget. I can not support that.

Childers: Asks the Mayor for clarification about Hendrickson’s continual referal to a city “shorftall” – he says: I am unaware of a city shortfall. Is there a city shortfall that I haven’t been informed about, Mayor?

Mayor: No sir. Continue Reading »

by jhwygirl

Thought it might be fair to let everyone know exactly what were the sensible budget cuts that John Hendrickson and the “City Council conservatives” proposed – the ones that Missoulapolis spoke about today.

Here it is, folks.

As for the highlights, the “City Council conservatives” wanted to:
>>Gut Parks & Rec by 13 employees (14 if you include the Bike-Ped coordinator) AND eliminate the entire Parks maintenance staff;
>>Charge city employees $60-$100/month for healthcare (but only non-union employees – and I’m pretty sure charging non-union employees and not charging union employees is really illegal);
>>Cut $300,000 in back-up funding for said health insurance (you know, that funding that is needed for them to actually be self-insured);
>>Eliminate the Missoula Urban Transportation District’s (MUTD) Senior bus line; and
>>”Skim” 20% off of OPG (Yeah, that’s how it’s done: Skim ’em.)

Call me crazy – I’m sure some of you actually do – but aren’t the parks we have around town considered infrastructure? Same with those costly pools? Don’t they, umm, need to be maintained?

Now, in all fairness, Hendrickson & Co. suggested we replace the maintenance staff with juvenile delinquents community service volunteers. But ask yourself: Would using juvenile delinquents community service volunteers for park maintenace throughout the city actually be a good idea?

Yeah – cool! Chain gangs in downtown Missoula. What color would they wear? Green? Perhaps purple, so they match the already invading spotted knapweed that is everywhere due to the maintenance budget having been raided for the last 2 or 3 years. Yes. Purple it is!

So, ahh, if you are going to remember names for 2009, perhaps you should remember the names of the persons who wanted to eliminate Parks & Rec, cut transportation options for senior citizens, and risk lawsuits by charging some employees for health insurance and by taking away the funds they need to be self-insured.

by jhwygirl


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