Michael Wallner

Michael Wallner will join the Bozeman City Commission in 2020.

An economic data analyst who planted himself in the background of Bozeman politics in recent years is among three candidates vying for a seat on the Bozeman City Commission.

Bozeman voters have three candidates on the ballot for the November election aiming for the title of commissioner.

Michael Wallner, 32, is running on the slogan “preserving Bozeman’s high quality of life.”

“With that comes great trails, bike lanes, open space, green space, clean water and wonderful neighborhoods like we’ve had in the past,” Wallner said.

Wallner is the economic research lead at TechLink, a U.S. Department of Defense partnership based in Bozeman that helps transfer technology out of federal laboratories into the market.

The Minnesotan grew up on a cattle ranch and arrived in Bozeman 13 years ago to attend Montana State University, where he studied public policy and political science. His wife, Erica Schnee, will become principal of Bozeman’s second high school.

Wallner said he had planned to run for city commission for roughly five years.

“I’ve had the idea of being a politician since I was a little kid. I always knew I wanted to work in government or serve in a public service role,” Wallner said. “I’ve spent the last 13 years learning about Bozeman, and I have spent that entire time trying to prepare myself to serve our wonderful community.”

Part of his campaign leans on his proximity to recent elected leaders. His resume includes time on the city’s historic preservation board and the title of special adviser to former Mayor Carson Taylor and now to Deputy Mayor Chris Mehl.

Mehl said Monday Wallner received that title as he helped author a report released this year for the city that found Bozeman’s property taxes and fees to build outpace similar mountain towns.

Wallner said that study showed him Bozeman needs a way to collect money aside from property taxes. Like those who have campaigned for Bozeman politics before him, Wallner said the answer is a local option sales tax or tourist tax — a plan Montana legislators have consistently shut down.

Wallner said his data paired with his background could “progress this issue that’s been in standstill.”

“I’m a ranch kid, I live in a city, work in public policy and I’m advocating for a tourist tax or a local option sales tax,” he said.

Wallner said he’ll present the city report to the state interim tax committee in November.

Like his opponents, Wallner said access to affordable housing remains a key issue in Bozeman.

Wallner is interested in housing districts, similar to how the city uses tax districts to collect money for infrastructure projects. He said housing districts could pool money for the city to buy land to cut down a major piece of the cost to build. He said those district’s taxes could also go toward homebuyer down payment assistance.

Wallner said Bozeman should also consider upzoning areas set aside for single-family homes to allow existing houses to be divided into mixed-use or apartments.

“People may want to rent out their basement, and with this, not only can more people fit in that building but then [the owners] have income from that renter every month,” he said.

Wallner said when it comes to preserving Bozeman’s environment, he’s interested in the city replacing its outdated vehicles with electric cars over time, encouraging new homeowners to take a city conservation course, and potentially requiring people to use landscaping that doesn’t require consistent water.

Wallner said he would set a goal to power all government buildings in Bozeman with renewable energy by 2025 by adjusting the city’s budget to pay for solar panels.

He said the city should partner with developers and NorthWestern Energy to make new neighborhoods powered by renewable energy — which state law prohibits cities from mandating, but Wallner said Bozeman could be a leader in the effort.

Wallner said his fourth key campaign issue is gender equality. He said if elected, he would support the commission adopting what’s often known as the Women’s Bill of Rights. Over the last year, a local cohort of people have called on the city to pass the ordinance and create a task force to come up with an action plan. The issue hasn’t made it before commissioners.

Ballots will be mailed this week.

Katheryn Houghton can be reached at khoughton@dailychronicle.com or at 582-2628. Follow her on Twitter @K_Hought.

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