Polson commissioners have voted to raise water rates, sewer rates, and increase the medical mill levy to 9.5 mils. Streets are in need of repair. Polson is experiencing an increase in crime jeopardizing the safety of its citizens and visitors. There has been discussion of implementing a resort tax or gasoline tax. Yet, Polson Redevelopment Agency (PRA) is planning to risk more tax dollars on frivolous projects.
First some background. The unelected Polson Redevelopment Agency (PRA) was given the responsibility and obligation for oversight and prioritizing blighted projects in Polson for the purpose of increasing the tax base in the blighted area. The focus must be rehabilitation and redevelopment. The method is Tax Increment Financing or Funds (TIF). Montana law clearly states how this money is to be used.
What is Blight?
Montana State law states in MCA 7‐15‐4206 (2). Blighted “means an area that is conducive to ill health, transmission of disease, infant mortality, juvenile delinquency, and crime, that substantially impairs or arrests the sound growth of the city or its environs, that retards the provision of housing accommodations, or that constitutes an economic or social liability or is detrimental or constitutes a menace to the public health, safety, welfare, and morals in its present condition and use.”
So, let’s look at some of the previous PRA projects using TIF dollars. Downtown Polson business owners received approval from City Council to raise funds entirely through donations to build a stairway up the steep hill from Riverside Park. Maybe it was taking too long and they grew impatient. Who knows why, but someone approached the PRA to ask for money to pay $7,000 to complete the stairway project. Although this is clearly not what the PRA is supposed to do, the request was granted. Maybe it is only a coincidence that the stairway practically ends on the doorstep of PRA Chairman Ken Avison’s Cove Deli and Pizza.
Initially, the main focus of the Polson Redevelopment Agency was improvement on the unoccupied and blighted Gambles Building on Main Street. Funds were used to purchase four reports and analysis of the Gambles building ($3,000). That project would most likely fit the MCA definition of blight. Very suddenly, that plan was ignored and substituted for a trail through Sacajawea Park and the sidewalk under the bridge (a.k.a. the bridge under the bridge). Once again, someone had approached the PRA with the request for money. Recently, the PRA inappropriately used tax dollars for a ribbon cutting ceremony connected with that project. The payment to the Cove Deli and Pizza was $219.98.
Looking forward, the PRA wants to purchase additional lighting for the pathways and pave the parking areas at Salish Point. The question to Ken Avision and the PRA board must be this. Are you going to eliminate any of the blight previously identified or continue full speed ahead granting wishes? You don’t have a pot of money. You have a responsibility to Polson taxpayers and not just a few. Be reminded of the public perception, as revealed in the Envision Polson survey, “Decisions are made without citizen input – often favoring the wealthy and those in government” (City Council Minutes, March 12, 2012). The funds you have to work with are considered a risk to taxpayers unless the project will eliminate blight and result in increased tax revenue. Wisdom should be used in making decisions especially at a time when the public is demanding responsibility and frugality.