Despite conservative opposition, Missoula City Council approves funding for health clinic at food bank

The new conservative voting block on the Missoula City Council tried but failed Wednesday to prevent tax increment financing from being used to open a health care clinic in the Missoula Food Bank.

Under an agreement with Partnership Health Center, the city will finish roughly 1,600 square feet of space at the Food Bank at an estimated cost of $433,800. The funding represents tax increment financing approved in October by the Missoula Redevelopment Agency’s Board of Commissioners.

Once the space is finished, the city will lease it to Partnership, which will operate a satellite clinic to provide affordable medical and behavioral health to patients who need the services.

“This is an example of tax increment financing and MRA dollars being used to the betterment of the entire community,” said council member Stacie Anderson.

The proposal took months of cooperative planning between Laurie Francis, executive director at Partnership, and Aaron Brock, executive director of the Food Bank.

Partnership, a nonprofit medical provider, saw roughly 16,000 unique patients last year at its seven locations. Of those 16,000 people, 3,000 were children under the age of 18. Providing services at the Food Bank and its diverse population could help grow that number, experts have said.

The Food Bank provided food to more than 26,000 unique individuals at least once last year across a variety of incomes.

Still, new City Council members Sandra Vasecka and John Contos, along with fellow conservative Jesse Ramos, opposed the use of tax increment to fund the clinic’s construction. Ramos suggested it represented a misuse of funds.

“This is another abuse of TIF dollars,” Ramos said. “I don’t agree with this allocation of funds.”

The remaining council members disagreed, saying access to affordable health care represents a national crisis, and Missoula has an opportunity to close the gap. Allocating tax increment to projects that benefit the wider public is allowed by state law.

“I take issue with calling it a misuse. It’s a use created under Montana state law,” said Council member Gwen Jones. “To be putting in a Partnership Health Clinic in the Food Bank to serve our constituents is one of the best things council can do.”