In advance of the 2019 primary and general elections for six Missoula City Council seats, Missoula Current asked each of the 15 candidates a series of questions based on issues facing city leaders in the years ahead. Their answers are reprinted verbatim.
Julie Armstrong, the incumbent Ward 5 council member, is not running for reelection. Ward 5 includes these Missoula neighborhoods: Franklin to the Fort, Miller Creek, Moose Can Gully, South 39th, Southgate Triangle and Two Rivers.
The two Ward 5 candidates, both new to city government, are Alex Fregerio and John Contos. They will meet in November’s general election.
Here are Contos’ responses to Missoula Current’s election questionnaire. Fregerio’s responses are included at the bottom of this story as well.
John Contos, Ward 5
Q: Do you support the use of tax increment financing as a tool for economic development, job growth and expanding the city’s tax base? you support the city’s new housing policy, and what would you do to implement the recommendations?
No, I do not support the use of tax increment financing because it is, in large part, taking money from the poor to give to the rich. Missoula has been discovered and there are many people wanting to live in our wonderful community and this presents a great opportunity for businesses. However, if businesses want to come to Missoula it needs to be on their dime, not the taxpayer’s dime. Another major reason I am opposed to tax increment financing is because my wife is a schoolteacher here in Missoula and TIF robs money from essential services such as schools, the police and sheriff departments, and money for infrastructure. Just in this last budget cycle TIF skimmed off over 12 Million dollars from our core services and only gave 3 million back. The remaining 9 million dollars are being used to fund pet projects and corporate welfare
Q: Do you support the city’s new housing policy, and what would you do to implement the recommendations?
For this question my answer is both yes and no; There are several parts of the housing policy that I strongly support that would lower the cost of housing such as deregulations and fee reduction. However, most of the policy seems to be working against that very objective. The city council has implemented many policies during its tenure that have caused the price of housing to skyrockets that are separate from the housing policy recommendations. I lived in the Boulder Colorado area for most of my life before moving to Missoula in the early 90’s with my wife. Boulder was an affordable place to live when I left but today it is only a city for the super-rich. That is not what I want for Missoula and that is why I am running for city council. Missoula is doing the exact same things that Boulder was doing 20-30 years ago such as massive open space bonds that drive up the cost of land and increase the tax burden. Colorado also heavily utilizes tax increment financing which drives up the taxes for the rest of the city and artificially drives out small business owners by favoring the wealthy corporations that can pay more for less. A large part of our affordable housing problem is the tax enormous tax problem that is placed on our citizens. The full implementation of this plan would drive that tax burden even higher working against our core objective which is to lower the lost of housing.
Q: What would you do to expand the city’s tax base to pay for essential services and the increasing cost of providing those services?
We need to address this by paying for all essential services first before funding anything else. Folks care most about their police and fire protection and having safe roads to travel on before anything else. We need to reevaluate where our money is going and redirect it to pay for these city services, first. It is not the role of government to expand a tax base, that is the role of the private sector. In many cases the government needs to get out of the way and allow businesses and developments to happen with greater ease. This will make us more marketable for businesses to come to town and provide both high paying jobs and more tax revenue. In addition to all of that we need to look at taking out as much money as we possibly can from the TIF districts and use it to fund those essential services that our citizens rely on. Tax increment financing skimmed off over 12 million dollars this year, that is money that could and should be going to police fire and infrastructure.
Q: Do you believe a series of tweets sent out by President Donald Trump targeting four minority members of Congress this month were racist? Why or why not?
I am honestly stumped as to what this question has to do with the city of Missoula. I read your opinion column a couple of weeks ago and discovered that what you were actually trying to figure out where candidates stood on race and immigration and I think those are good questions and highly relevant to Missoula. My wife and I have adopted and raised three children from all over the world. We take the issue of racism incredibly seriously and condemn it in all forms. Our children are absolutely incredible and add nothing but value to our country. I feel the same way about the new immigrants that got sworn in as naturalized citizens a couple of weeks ago and could not be happier about it!
Q: What would you do to ensure the city continues to meet the wide range of citizen demands while keeping an eye on taxes?
I believe the city needs to narrow its focus on core services and maintaining the parks that we have. The non-profit world exists to provide for the needs of a wide range of citizens and Missoula has great non-profits. I do not think it is fair for the city to pick and choose what non-profits it funds and what it doesn’t. If the city got back to the basics such as police, fire, infrastructure, etc. we would not have to worry about drastic tax hikes. I love our parks as do all of my neighbors but we have enough and need to focus on maintaining the ones we have and get back to the basics.
Q: What more can the city do to accommodate non-motorized transportation to achieve the goals in the Long Range Transportation Plan?
A: I believe a good start to this would be to extend the service of mountain line to many parts of Ward 5 that are not currently serviced, but the residents are paying for. I understand this is still motorized transportation, but multifaceted mass transit are key parts of the long-range transportation plan. I believe the plan is incredibly expensive right now and it needs some serious work in order to make it affordable for the citizens.
Q: What would be your primary goal as a member of the City Council? How would you fund it?
A: My primary goal on city council will be to prevent the city of Missoula from turning into Boulder, CO. I want my children and the children of my friends and neighbors to be able to afford to live here and raise their families here. Unfortunately, we are not on track for that possibility. Housing costs are rising, wages are stagnant, and crime and homelessness are on the rise. What we are doing isn’t working and we need to bring some diversity of thought back to the city council so that we can have more rigorous debate and come up with better solutions to the challenges facing our wonderful city. The good news is that my goal require no funding.