Missoula, MT (KGVO-AM News) - The Missoula City Club held its annual State of the Community presentation on Monday at the Doubletree Edgewater, featuring UM President Seth Bodnar, County Commissioner Josh Slotnick, and Mayor Jordan Hess.

President Bodnar led off the presentation after being introduced by moderator Jill Valley with KPAX-TV.

Bodnar had positive news from the University of Montana, with an increase in enrollment for the past two years, however, the picture for colleges and universities nationwide is troubling.

College Enrollment is Falling Nationwide but UM Has Grown for Two Years Straight

“I would argue perhaps the most worrisome challenge facing higher education right now, and it's not unique to us, and that's the national decline in students who are attending college,” began Bodnar. “In fact, the proportion of high school graduates who are enrolling in college directly out of high school has dropped seven full percentage points since just 2016. Now, thankfully, we're bucking that trend. Enrollment is growing at UM despite the national decline. So that's a good thing.”

Commissioner Slotnick had Proposals to Tax Tourism to Lower Property Taxes

Missoula County Commissioner Josh Slotnick began and ended his 10-minute presentation by talking about property taxes, and how the proper taxation of tourists throughout the state could help alleviate local property taxes.

“So, how do we address the property tax impacts of tourism?” asked Slotnick. We recently were on a call with nearly 30 people from across the state all unified around trying to figure this out. We were actually able to get the State Chamber of Commerce to include questions about our proposal in a statewide poll. And it polled at 70 percent. That’s 70 percent voting ‘Yes’. Would you be okay with charging tourists for some of their services as a way to lower your property taxes? And what do you know? People are good with that.”

City of Missoula Mayor Jordan Hess spent his 10 minutes praising the city’s reaction to the housing crisis, first referencing a large affordable housing project off Scott Street.

Mayor Jordan Hess Praised Housing Development in Missoula

“On Scott Street, we're about to break ground on nine acres of housing that will be that will be housing that Missoulians can afford,” said Mayor Hess. “A number of those homes will be permanently affordable homeownership opportunities. This will be the largest affordable homeownership project in the state of Montana's history. In addition, the Mullan area Build Grant was a $13 million federal grant that funded transportation infrastructure in the area between Reserve Street and the airport, enabling the development of several thousand homes. In fact, there are 3,000 homes in the pipeline already.”

Mayor Hess went on to praise the city and county efforts to deal with homelessness.

“The county's temporary safe outdoor space opened in January,” he said. “This site provides 40 safe, secure tiny homes for individuals experiencing homelessness in our community. That's been a huge success because nearly 50 percent of the residents of that temporary safe outdoor space have been able to find stable, secure housing, as a result of the social services that were wrapped around them on that site. Just nearby to that will be the new community navigation center that will open soon, and the center will provide access to services for people in crisis.”

Following the presentations, members of the City Club questioned the three panelists for over an hour.

Missoula Community Access Television (MCAT) will have the entire presentation on its Facebook page at a later date.

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