Issues Update

Current Business Issues Forum - Transportation 

Thanks to all who attended this forum. Media links to the event are below.

KPAX News: Air fares among top concerns at Missoula transportation forum.
Missoulian - Missoula rail, trucking industries slow to move past recession.

A very special thank you to our host and guest speakers:   
First Interstate Bank 
Nick Kaufman - WGM Group
Michael McKay - Montana Rail Link 
Sten Sohlberg - Jones Brothers Trucking
Jason Wiener - Missoula City Council
Cris Jensen - Missoula International Airport

 Office of Planning and Grants

Background: The Office of Planning and Grants (OPG) has been widely recognized by the business community as a significant obstacle to business expansion and development efforts. Chamber member survey data confirm this assertion, identifying OPG process and customer service outcomes as the two areas most in need of improvement. An independent consultant’s report commissioned by the City, The Taylor Report identifies the same issues as those with large potential for improvement. 

Based on findings of the Taylor Report, the City’s executive management initiated a review of OPG’s services delivery model and proposed a reorganization of that model with the intent to enhance operational effectiveness. Presently, the city and county jointly offer services under what is called an inter-local agreement. Currently in discussion, one proposed reorganization calls for elimination of the inter-local agreement and the separation of city and county functions.   

Chamber action to date: Governmental Affairs Liaison secured an invitation to join the Development Services Working Group, a collaborative group formed to facilitate proposed reorganization of OPG.

Results: The reorganization is presently work in progress. Early indicators suggest a beneficial outcome of improved OPG process and enhanced customer service outcomes. 

Next steps: Monitor and participate in discussions concerning OPG reorganization with the goal of achieving process and customer service improvement.

Agricultural Lands Mitigation

Background: Under a mandate by the State of Montana’s Constitution, counties must examine the issue of agricultural land protection as it is consumed by urban development.  Missoula County’s Rural Initiatives Open Lands Committee (OLC) is a citizen advisory committee tasked with making recommendations for agricultural lands protection to the Board of County Commissioners. OLC proposed drafted a proposal which included, voluntary mitigation incentives, and compulsory mitigation prescriptions including an acre for acre set-aside for all lands subject to subdivision review by government authorities in Missoula County (see links below). If adopted land values may be considerably impaired, developers could encounter significant project delays and might incur costly review fees.

Chamber action to date: The Chamber wrote a letter to 100 area agricultural producers encouraging their attendance at an upcoming OLC meeting where one agenda item was discussion of agricultural lands mitigation principles.

Results: The Chamber’s letter resulted in standing-room only attendance at the OLC meeting, and inspired four interested parties to apply for two open seats on the OLC. In addition, it caused OLC to discuss in greater detail some facets of their compulsory mitigation strategy.

Next steps: The Chamber will continue monitoring OLC’s discussion of agricultural lands mitigation.

Additional Information:

Sidewalk Funding

Background: The City of Missoula currently charges adjacent landowners for city-ordered sidewalk projects (typically replacement, or new in already developed areas).. Though the majority of projects are significantly less, fees for some projects can exceed $15,000 (corner lot owners). City Council proposed alternative funding methods to “spread the cost” across all Missoula residents under the presumption all residents benefit from pedestrian improvements regardless of proximity to domicile. Presently, the most likely primary funding mechanism is the “healthcare” model. Funds to be generated by marginal property tax assessments against real property owners in Missoula’s city limits.

Amounts are presently undetermined, but the “healthcare” model works like this:

Deductible:                             First $ X paid by taxpayer
Co-pay:                                   Next $ Y co-paid by taxpayer and city up to a “cap”
Amounts above the “cap,” borne by taxpayer
Last co-pay discussion:           30% taxpayer: 70% city
Last recommended cap:          $15,000

City staff is presently drafting language for Council.

Additionally, City Council plans to formally urge the Board of County Commissioners to consider making a gasoline tax (exclusively for supplementary sidewalk funding) an official ballot issue in the upcoming election.

Chamber action to date: Monitoring the issue through regular attendance of Public Works meetings.

Results: N/A

Next steps: Staff recommendation: Formulate an official Chamber position in support of the “healthcare” model with additional support for a relief provision/ exclusion for property/ business owners who have paid, or are currently paying for sidewalk installations made in the past two or three years. Relief to continue until subject property is sold in a bona-fide sale, or for the average useful life of a sidewalk in Missoula.

Subdivision for Lease or Rent

Background: In January, 2012, Montana's Attorney General issued and opinion clarifying a code interpretation regarding what development triggers a full subdivision review. The opinion states any unconnected structure which could ever be rented or leased triggers a full subdivision review. Developers now face significant project delays and costly review fees.

Vested rights exemptions are currently in draft form, initiated by the Office of Planning and Grants. Vested rights exemptions would provide relief from the opinion for developers where compliance would cause significant economic impairment.

Chamber action to date:  The Chamber wrote letters to both the County Commissioners and the Director of the Office of Planning and Grants advocating for adoption of vested rights exemptions. 

Results: The Board of County Commissioners announced their intent to formalize vested rights exemptions consistent with the Office of Planning and Grants.

Next steps: Continue monitoring this issue at the local and State level.

Additional information:

Water Rights

Background: The State of Montana, Federal Government, and Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes (CSKT) are negotiating off-reservation water rights covering aboriginal territories of CSKT. Current discussions involve the State and CSKT sharing equally the management of water rights. While the negotiations cover most of western Montana, of importance to the Chamber are the discussions impacting the Upper Clark Fork River system. Central to the negotiations are water rights associated with the former Milltown Dam. Developers are facing the possibility of more restrictive water policy as it relates to subdivision projects, which could impair both scale and profitability of future development projects. Junior water rights holders (mostly agricultural users) could be subject to a rights call, essentially shutting off access to water when users may need access most. By agreement, all three negotiating parties must separately ratify terms by December 31, 2012. Parties hope to have final drafts prepared by June, 2012.

Chamber action to date: Chamber is monitoring discussions. Bill Schultz, of DNRC will be a featured speaker at the March 13, 2012 Government Affairs Committee meeting, providing an update on negotiations.

Results: N/A

Next steps: Continue to monitor.

Additional Information:
Exempt Wells