Bozeman City government does a commendable job of serving the Bozeman community. That said, there's room for improvement in these key areas:
City-County Collaboration. We can only fully achieve many of our goals as a city through collaboration with our regional partners.
Taxes. Property taxes drive up the cost of homeownership, both for current owners and those seeking to buy their first home. Property taxes must be kept at the lowest possible level compatible with providing city government services.
Transparency and Accountability. City Government exists to serve the residents of Bozeman. We can do more to ensure that the decisions that local government makes is reflective of the community's values.
Improve City-County Collaboration
Based on my recent conversations with County Commissioners Seifert and MacFarlane, I believe that the disagreement between the City and the County is more perception than reality. Our respective departments (Streets and Roads, Planning, Law Enforcement) all collaborate well; cooperative planning is happening on the Planning Coordinating Committee and the Transportation Coordinating Committee. The disputed Gallatin Regional Park road funding needs to be settled by a judge; for that to happen, the City of Bozeman needs to send Gallatin County a bill (which will happen in November).
Previously, the County Administrator and the City Manager would meet monthly for breakfast. The County still hosts these monthly breakfasts (with an open invitation to the City Manager), but the City has not recently been in attendance. As a City Commissioner, I would push for City participation in these meetings to resume.
Broadly, the City and the County share many similar goals: to reduce sprawl and keep working lands as working lands, to provide high-quality and effective transportation systems, to protect public health, and to grow in a thoughtful way that reflects the region's values. In my view, shared values are a great foundation for a healthy, productive relationship. I’m optimistic that the City and County can resume a more collaborative relationship, in part through my own relationships with our representatives on the County Commission.
Image Source: Flickr
Property taxes are cutting into seniors' grocery budgets, and increase the costs of living in Bozeman for both owners and renters. We cannot simultaneously tackle our affordability crisis seriously on the one hand while driving up the cost of housing with taxes on the other. We need property tax relief!
Here’s my tax plan:
Our first line of defense on property taxes should be wise spending.
Rein in the sprawl that’s driving up our taxes.
Unlock the productivity of our land. This includes policies that allow more housing (such as through ADUs and the types of duplexes and triplexes that are common throughout the historic core) and support more small-scale commercial nodes in more places (meaning more things within walking distance of more places).
Fix our Impact Fees to properly account for lifecycle costs net of future tax revenues, not just install costs.
For more, see my blog post on taxes.
Broadly speaking, the State of Montana is funded by income taxes and cities, counties, and schools are funded by property taxes. Relying on property taxes for city funding is regressive (those making less tend to pay a greater share of their income in taxes) and places a strain and burden on taxpayers and city alike when new expenses (such as new courts or fire stations) arise.
Local Option Sales Tax (a.k.a. a “tourist tax”)
As a gateway community to Yellowstone National Park, Bozeman hosts some four million tourists passing through town each year. Without a way to tax visitors, tourists’ costs for police and emergency services, streets, parking, etc. fall to local property owners.
I support a local option sales tax targeting tourist spending and using that money to provide property tax relief. A local option sales tax would give local voters the option to create a city-wide tax, and could target that tax toward items favored by tourists (e.g. restaurant meals, hotel stays). Unfortunately, Bozeman is unlikely to get a local option sales tax any time soon.
Montana cities have tried and failed to pass a local option sales tax in nearly every state legislative session since 1981. In the last legislative session alone, there were six different local option sales tax bills introduced. Only one–pertaining only to resort communities with an existing tax–passed.
I will not “sell voters down the river” by promising a tourist tax when it is beyond the power of any city commissioner or the city commission as a whole to produce one. That said, if elected I would commit myself to redoubling Bozeman's lobbying efforts (traveling to Helena to testify myself in support).
We should remain hopeful for a legislative change that would someday help tourists pay their fair share and provide property tax relief—but we should not pin our hopes on it.
Local (County) Option Gas Tax
A legitimately viable option to generate money from the 4 million tourists passing through Bozeman each year would be to enact a $0.02 County Gas Tax. We are authorized under Montana Code to do so.
If a $0.02 was approved by voters in Gallatin County, it's estimated this tax would generate some $2m per year—perhaps $1m of which would go to Bozeman, and could be used to reduce our property taxes for street maintenance and construction.
Establishing such a tax would require a local voter approval. Such a measure hasn’t been tried, in part because it would likely face strong, well-funded opposition by gas stations and petroleum companies—and in part because it would require consensus among the participating entities (County, Bozeman, Belgrade, Four Corners, Big Sky, etc.) for the allocation of funds. If elected, I would champion establishing a $0.02 County Gas tax to improve our transportation system and reduce property taxes.
A $0.02 County Option Gas Tax would shift some of the burden of building and maintaining our streets to the tourists who use our streets. Image Source: Flickr
Transparency and Accountability
Bozeman city government exists to serve the residents of the city. I desire to see the city increase its accountability to city residents through three actions:
Accessible and inclusive code. Bozeman should commit to simple, clear language for all city code, plans, and documents. As a City Commissioner, I would hold myself to a standard of only supporting city plans and policies written in clear, direct language that members of the public can comprehend and understand.
I’d like to see the city host “TED” style talks or debates in an informal setting (e.g. the Ellen Theater or Rialto) when topics come up that warrant an engaged community conversation (e.g. the Black and Olive apartment building).
Open Data. Many cities have a policy of sharing their data publicly via an Open Data Portal for the purposes of transparency, economic development, and the public's right to know. I would champion establishment of an Open Data Policy for Bozeman.
Better reporting on performance. The City of Bozeman is currently in the early stages of developing a public-facing dashboard with performance measures describing various aspects of city performance. Much of my work as a transportation planner pertains to helping Departments of Transportation create performance dashboards. As a member of City Commission, my professional expertise in Performance Management would help develop a meaningful, clear, and simple dashboard to provide real-time accountability and transparency.