Missoula Mayor Points to Legislature, Taxes for Loss of Fire Levy
Missoula, MT (KGVO-AM News) - It was announced at the Missoula City Council meeting on Monday night that due to the lack of certainty over the amount of upcoming residential property tax bills, the council will withdraw a resolution placing a mill levy on the November ballot to provide additional funding for Fire and Emergency Services.
Mayor Jordan Hess pointed to the move on the state legislature’s ‘inaction on property taxes’ which he said makes the tax climate even more uncertain.
“The state Legislature has created an absolutely untenable situation from a property tax standpoint, and has created a massive tax shift to residences,” began Mayor Hess. “The concern that I have and the concern that the department leadership has, and the reason we're bringing this before you today, is that tax bills won't even be mailed out until after ballots are out. So people will be voting on this measure without knowing what their own tax bills will be.”
The levy, which was approved for the November ballot by the Missoula City Council, would have permanently levied up to 34 mills; that currently raises about $7 million per year. Mayor Hess reassured the public that the Missoula Fire Department would not lose any present funding.
Mayor Hess said the Fire Department is Still Fully Funded, but No Extra Money
“What I'd like to do also is take a minute to reassure the public that the fire department response is sound, the department is sound,” he said. “The department is in good shape and good condition. We do need to address this in the future. Our community has grown significantly since we last added firefighters almost well over a decade ago. We still have 80 operational firefighters and our community has grown significantly since the late 2000’s when we last added firefighters when we opened station five.”
One of the finalists for the mayor’s office, Andrea Davis, was at the meeting and spoke in favor of the council’s action.
“I just wanted to comment that this is a difficult decision on behalf of the mayor's office and in the council,” said Davis. “I think that the need is something that's very real. But I do think that you're making a responsible decision on behalf of the taxpayers. Folks are really concerned with their tax bills and you articulated it very well, Mayor Hess, that we won't know what the actual outcome of our property taxes are due to the shifts from the other classifications to residential property taxpayers this year.”
The Fire Services Levy will be Reintroduced at the Earliest Opportunity
Mayor Hess repeated that fully funding the Missoula Fire Department remains his top priority.
“What I'm personally requesting is that you all keep this in mind as a high priority, this remains a need that remains personally my highest priority, and this remains something that I hope that the next council and the next mayor will take up,” he said. “I think it's something that's incredibly important. I just feel like this is not the time. It's not fair to the voters. It is not a good climate to bring a major funding measure, with so much uncertainty on the horizon.”
The levy is expected to be reintroduced at the earliest possible opportunity.