Mayoral candidates address whether citizens have enough say in spending


MISSOULA, Mont. - We posed questions to the candidates for Missoula mayor that voters say are important to them.

Today's topic -- whether citizens are getting enough say in multimillion-dollar spending projects, like the takeover of Mountain Water and the new bike and pedestrian bridge over South Reserve Street.

NBC Montana sat down with Mayor John Engen and asked, "Your opponent is criticizing the city for passing multimillion-dollar expenditures, like the South Reserve bike and pedestrian bridge and the Mountain Water takeover without giving the public enough say in the matters. Do you feel the public had a say in those measures?"

"I do. The public has a say in a number of ways. The first and most fundamental is who you vote for. We had a mayoral election four years ago. During the course of that, my platform was largely based on acquiring the water system for Missoula. Many city council members also ran on that platform and were elected during the course of budgeting for that acquisition. We had a number of public hearings. We are open every Monday night to hear from constituents, and I am open every day to hear from constituents. Fundamentally, it is very expensive and very cumbersome to put a referendum on every budget expenditure, so we weigh and measure what it is we are going to do, what we believe public sentiment is, and we forge ahead. Something like water is so fundamental to a community, that for me, it would have been irresponsible not to pursue that acquisition," said Engen.

We also posed the issue to Triepke.

"Do you feel the public really hasn't had a say in issues like these?"

"I think the public has had a reasonable amount of interaction on certain bond issues, but in these extensive issues that weren't involved in budgeting or anything else like that. I think they are going to significantly affect our taxes and the way we interact with the city in our payments. I think at a certain level, we need to have constituent input on high dollar projects. Whatever that level is that we reach and then ask for the input, I am not sure what that level is, where it pencils out to make it affordable, but we can reach out through surveys. We obviously have the technology to gather people's email addresses, etc. I think we can reach out to them and find out information informally, in order to get to a more formal situation. At certain points, when we know it's going to significantly impact the tax payers, we need to be reaching out to them. I think right now, decisions are being made behind closed doors, and then citizens are being told via their tax bills how we are going to pay for it," said Triepke.

Engen says in a number of cases, like the pedestrian crossing, the city pays for projects with a system that uses income it will generate in the future.

Wednesday the candidates will address the cost and availability of housing in Missoula.

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