Accountability / Addressing Needs
Several strategies can be implemented to increase the affordability of housing. First and foremost, streamlining and shrinking the bureaucratic process of local government by consolidating regulations and expediting development review and permitting. Give developers predictability in the process. Encourage more townhome exemption developments by modifying City ordinances. My own home is a 1,425 square foot townhome where we raised four children and two dogs. We felt fortunate to find housing we could afford, but 19 years later I feel that opportunity is slipping away for more of our residents. The City should continue to support and encourage the development of smaller, affordable dwelling units. The growth policy being developed must incorporate recent legislation that allows more options for housing types. Organizations like NeighborWorks Montana and Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFI’s) leverage private equity to provide opportunities for first time home buyers with limited income. Development using low-income housing tax credits (LIHTC) can also be a useful tool in providing attainable housing.
One way or another the City is spending money dealing with this crisis - Currently, emergency services (Police, Fire, EMS, Hospital ER's) handle the brunt of the problem, doing everything they can to keep peace and maintain the usability of our outdoor public spaces. In the process of doing so, it taxes availability of these services to the rest of the community. All the while, the underlying causes of this crises aren't being addressed. Temporary shelter and transitional housing provides the opportunity for meaningful change - mental health, job training and substance abuse treatment being key to long-term stability. We can employ compassionate solutions, while at the same time show firmness and accountability with those who nevertheless continue to create public health hazards and engage in criminal activity, either through the criminal justice system or relocation by way of reuniting with family or other relatives willing to directly offer shelter.
Are we being fiscally responsible with our tax dollars? Millions spent on a pedestrian bridge, another failing after only 20 years of use. Over a million spent on a motel, paying more for it's demolition, then likely selling it for a loss. The four-lane Beartracks (Higgins Ave) bridge renovated for $17-plus million dollars only to have it proposed to be cut down to two lanes. The contemplation of a $40-plus million dollar community center.
The downturn in the economy in recent years has hit everyone hard - made more difficult by large property tax increases last year in the City and County. I don't know anyone pleased with their most recent tax bill, or more recently, their property re-assessment from the Montana Department of Revenue. Now is the time to prioritize our needs over our wants, focusing on emergency services, infrastructure, and housing.
Mental / Behavioral Health
I’ve been “on the streets” of Missoula as a Law Enforcement Officer for 23 years until retiring last December. Mental illness manifests itself in many ways – homelessness and drug addiction are readily visible in many parts of the city. I can tell you that no parts of our community are void of the effects of mental illness- detrimental to families, workplaces, schools, and public well-being in general. In 2011 the City adopted a 10-year plan to end homelessness. The result: the City has the largest homeless population of any major city in the state. My observations driving chronic homelessness – drug addiction / mental health disorders. Based on my observations over many years, providing shelter to those in this situation, without treatment, is a short-lived solution.
Law Enforcement’s contact with those experiencing mental illness or in a mental health crisis has been well-documented in recent years, exacerbated by drug and alcohol dependency. Our police officers today have Mobile Support Teams with the training to identify those in mental health crisis, and are aware of the various resources / mental health professionals available to get such individuals the urgent assistance they need. Unfortunately, despite the best efforts of our well-trained officers and mental health professionals alike, mental health resources are stretched thin, and many desperately needing ongoing treatment don’t receive it.
Funding to increase capacity of mental health services, both for immediate intervention and ongoing treatment, is essential in addressing this need in our community. Increasing the availability of resources for our mental health professionals will translate into less relapse our law enforcement officers and other first responders must deal with. Those in recovery and continued outpatient care will be in a position to gain employment and be in a position to find suitable housing. I fully support Montana's "Healing and Ending Addiction through Recovery and Treatment" (HEART) fund as an important part of providing these much-needed services locally.
Improving the lives of individuals and families and the well-being of the community as a whole is something we can all get behind.
Scope of Government
I believe our local government would do well to remember where the money they spend comes from. It's all too easy to forget this, and in turn spend other people's money un-wisely. Local government should strive to support a favorable business climate, in turn growing a vibrant, local economy to create more high-paying jobs. We should establish a growth policy that promotes investment in infrastructure and streamlines housing development to bring housing costs down. Additionally, I support amending our City Charter to limit elected officials to no more than two, four-year terms.
Our Police Officers and Firefighters serve our community with distinction day-in and day-out. I will do my part to ensure these services are fully-funded. I will listen to the respective Department Chiefs when requests or other proposals come forward, ensuring these personnel have the means to receive the best training, exercise best practices, have the best equipment to keep themselves safe, and continue to offer us the most efficient, professional service possible. Additionally, I support the creation of a Public Safety Advisory Committee to enhance communication between these agencies and Missoula residents as well as a continued focus on community oriented policing. Given my support for mental health services, I would advocate for full-funding of our Mobile Support Teams, which include EMT’s and mental health professionals as first responders, addressing calls for service pertaining to those in crisis.