Missoula Co. commissioners vote to add $15 million Open Space bond to ballot

Missoula County commissioners voted 3-0 to add a $15 million Open Space bond to the November ballot. The vote came after a public hearing Monday morning with about 60 community members in attendance.

The $15 million total would be split evenly between the city and the county, as was the case with the 2006 Open Space bond. The financial implications, as outlined by county documents, estimate the cost to a $265,000 home, per assessed market value by the Department of Revenue, is $17.84.

Organizations that spoke in favor of adding the bond to the ballot Monday included representatives with the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes Natural Resources, Five Valleys Land Trust, Homeword and the Clark Fork Coalition.

“We live in an area that is growing quickly and is making many ‘best of’ lists nationally. Outdoor recreation and scenic open spaces have become an economic driver for both tourism as well as individuals and companies relocating here from urban centers. This makes it particularly important right now that we plan for the future to both maintain, protect and manage this piece of our growing economy,” said Amber Sherrill, with Five Valleys Land Trust.

One person who spoke against the bond was Susan Kohler, with Missoula Aging Services. She expressed concern for those living on a fixed income, like older adults and those with mental disabilities, being able to afford another bump in taxes. She said paying for this bond is out of line with community members’ priorities, that recent information shows affordable housing and taxes as the top two concerns for Missoula-area residents.

Another person who spoke against it was Turah resident Lee Tangedahl. He said his property taxes have increased by 18 percent in two years. He talked about the 2006 open space bond and said those living in rural Missoula County are paying for the 2006 bond, but all the money went to the Missoula urban area.

“This was a case of taxation without representation. It’s up to you, the county commissioners, to represent the whole county. You say that we’re just putting it on the ballot to be voted on by the people. Well, as we have seen, if you put it on the ballot, we will be at the mercy of the Missoula urban area, which seems to have an insatiable appetite for spending money,” said Tangedahl.

Chris Clasby spoke in favor of the bond, saying it brings more accessible outdoor opportunities to those with disabilities.

The county says the bond will be used for conserving, enjoying, and enhancing open space land, including public access; conserving agricultural lands, fish and wildlife habitat, and rivers, lakes, and streams; protecting scenic views; and making improvements to open space lands. It will appear on the Nov. 6 ballot.

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