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Missoula city council passes controversial tax increase after hours of comment

Posted at 4:05 PM, Aug 29, 2018
and last updated 2018-08-29 18:33:19-04

MISSOULA – In one of the longest meetings in years, the Missoula City Council passed the 2019 budget with a controversial tax hike.

But the decision didn’t come easy, as council members faced emotional speakers, personal insults and even the threat of a tax revolt complete with a “guillotine.”

Hundreds of people came to the meeting to voice their concerns about the 3.85 percent tax increase.

Council members say that over 50 people testified, and all but a few expressed outrage at the increase, saying that homeowners and renters are struggling under the city’s tax burden already.

“I think our credit cards are maxed out,” said Renee Mitchell, a Missoula resident who stayed late into the night and spoke multiple times.

“Please if there’s a way that you can trim something back, please try, because it’s really putting a burden on us,” said another Missoula resident.

“And I’m sick of this council, I’m sick of the fact that we, the people, are who you…we’re your boss,” said Ed Lesofski, another Missoula resident who also spoke on behalf of veterans who are struggling in the community.

The Missoula Republican Party rallied many of the 200 people to the meeting to offer their support to cutting the budget.

Many came to support council member Jesse Ramos, who was the only opposing vote as the budget passed 9-to-1. He moved to cut money for Mountain Line’s Zero Fare program, Arts Missoula and the city water park, as well as to reduce or freeze pay for council members and the mayor.

“We take a 3.85 percent reduction in our pay equal to that of the property taxes so that we can truly know what its like to be a taxpayer in the city of Missoula,” Ramos said.

Councilwoman Stacie Anderson said the council understood the crowds frustrations.

“There’s some frustration from the people who are here because they are not feeling like we are hearing them, and we very much are hearing them. I mean, that’s the challenge with public service, there’s over 70,000 people who live in Missoula and there’s a constituency who feels really passionately about all of these issues,” she said.

She said they had already heard many of the issues in prior meetings and were not expecting Ramos to propose all of the amendments during the final meeting approval process.

Council members did approve one amendment to the $58 million budget before it passed.

Councilwoman Julie Armstrong moved to delay spending $87,000 on a survey of street pavement and use the money to hire an additional city police officer.

Two new city police positions were already in the budget.

The meeting ended just after 2:30 a.m. Tuesday.

Council members had to pass the budget Tuesday morning or call a special meeting, because the budget is due to the Department of Revenue on Sept. 6.

Reporting by Augusta McDonnell for MTN News