Once a month the Missoula County Commissioners visit KGVO to discuss county issues and answer questions from listeners.

On Wednesday, Chair Juanita Vero and Commissioner Josh Slotnick and Senior Planner Andrew Hagemaier came to our studios specifically to discuss the proposed new zoning ordinances, the first zoning changes in nearly 50 years.

Hagemaier first described the new zoning regulations that have been over five years in the making.

“Zoning is supposed to be a reflection of your community's values; of where you want growth to occur and what you want that to look like,” said Hagemaier. “So if our zoning is almost 50 years old, the growth that's occurring right now is more of a reflection of the community's values from the last 50 years. We've been working on this (new zoning) for almost five years. We started with a big community outreach process that engaged thousands of people, lots and lots of meetings all over the valley, and we basically crafted a map that said this is where we want residential to go; this is where we want commercial to go and this is where we want agriculture and industrial.”

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One listener complained that the reason why housing is so expensive in Missoula was because too many people are moving in, rather than just visiting as tourists, to which Commissioner Slotnick provided this response.

“What is costing so much money is that we are the victims of intense national demand,” said Slotnick. “We're growing at an incredibly rapid pace and thanks to the ‘ZOOM’ phenomenon, people who work on the coast can now live in Missoula. So they're working off of a wage scale that is not ours, but living here and then applying those funds to this housing market. Exercising that demand far more than anything else is pushing the cost of housing up. We have national demand and local supply.”

Another complaint from a listener targeted the high property taxes that Missoula county residents must pay. Slotnick said that was because property taxes are the only funding mechanism for the county.

“Property taxes are the only source of revenue with which we can provide services,” he said. “That's everything from the school district hiring teachers to us hiring sheriff's deputies or to making sure the roads are plowed. The only way we can pay for those things is through property taxes. This makes us very unusual compared to almost every other state in the country and every other county within those states because most every other place, has other sources of revenue, such as like state sales tax, local sales tax, real estate transfer tax, excise tax, bed taxes, all kinds of things. Instead, we have just that one tool.”

A listener referenced the small portable houses that were purchased over a year ago but had not yet been built and put to use for homeless persons. Slotnick explained the delay.

“We do have a place for them, are we when we bought these we had a couple potential places,” he said. “We also knew that they were going to be gone if we didn't get them at that time due to the same supply chain issues and also inflation. So we took advantage of getting them when we could with federal money, and hopefully if all goes well, there'll be up in the next couple months on our site.”

Commissioner Chair Vero then added this comment.

“We just got the text here saying that yes, we can disclose the location and it is next to the Trinity Center on the corner of Mullan Road and Broadway,” she said.

The portable housing is meant to replace the TSOS (Temporary Safe Outdoor Space) camp currently on Highway 93 South headed out of Missoula. It will be moved this fall.

Near the end of the hour long visit with the commissioners, another caller slammed the county for going ahead with a proposal to turn Larchmont Golf Course into a housing development, and Slotnick said the proposal had not been accepted.

“All I can say about Larchmont is it sounds like you're concerned that we are going to sell Larchmont for housing, and we decided not to take the developer up on his proposal,” he said. “What we are doing instead is an inventory of all the land that the county owns to see if we do actually have any land that's appropriate for development. And then after we work through that inventory, we'll have a public process so people can comment on that.”

Click the link to hear the entire County Talk discussion.

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