Chris Mehl, headshot

Current city commissioner Chris Mehl is running against Brian LaMeres for mayor in the upcoming Nov. 7, 2017 election.

The deadline for filing for Bozeman city commission is later this month. Two of the five commission slots are up for election this fall, and the winners will play an important role in determining future city policies and budget priorities.

This essay highlights some, but certainly not all, of the many issues facing our growing community. As candidates knock on doors and attend public forums, it’s key to have candidates go beyond top-line slogans and spell out the priorities, details and tradeoffs their proposals would entail.

AFFORDABLE HOUSING: Bozeman faces challenges across all spectrums of housing: renting, initial ownership, condos and senior living. Like many college communities, more than half of Bozeman residents rent. Given finite resources, where would candidates allocate scare dollars?

Also, how do candidates define success? Is it the number of targeted units built, the share of affordable units overall, the volume available, all of these, or other factors?

INFRASTRUCTURE: Roads, water treatment and sewer facilities are expensive—a large roundabout is more than $2 million—and all needs cannot be met at the same time. As a result, the city has restricted development in several areas because of road or sewage shortfalls. As the considers its 10-year-old “complete streets” multi-modal policy, what tradeoffs or outcomes do candidates support?

WORKFORCE: A recent Montana Department of Labor study showed the growing need for qualified workers across almost every local economic sector. Income inequality also is a pressing concern. Gallatin College provides great training and is one of the fastest growing pieces of our higher education system, but its future growth is severely restrained by limited space.

Given that Montana State University recently received funding for Romney Hall, expanding Gallatin College now should be a top priority. How do the county, local cities, MSU and others work together toward this goal?

GROWTH AND NEIGHBORHOODS: A trilemma of seemingly conflicting goals face growing communities; residents want affordable housing, oppose sprawl, and want to keep neighborhood character. What trade-offs would candidates make toward each of these goals?

In areas immediately adjacent to Bozeman that are likely to be annexed, city and county leaders have initiated discussions for coordinating infrastructure and development standards. This would provide certainty to landowners and more urban development. What standards would candidates apply to such proposals?

And when is infill—meaning redevelopment or empty lots—appropriate and at what density? The city is developing a set of questions or metrics to consider when evaluating these proposals such as access to large roads, transition areas, nearby zoning, and the proximity of employers, schools and public transit. How would candidates evaluate these decisions?

WATER: The city requires all projects to have or obtain water rights before construction. It also has embarked on a series of conservation and drought preparedness programs. What are the carrots and sticks candidates would use toward these goals?

PARKS AND TRAILS: During the past 15 years, the city focused on pressing priorities such as water, sewage, storm water and streets; and the quality of our city parks has fallen below national standards. Like other Montana cities, Bozeman has proposed a parks and trails district to bring existing parks up to par, tackle deferred maintenance ($6.8 million and growing), and take care of new parks such as Story Mill, Sports Park, Bozeman Ponds, and Trail to the M. How would candidates pay for parks and trails?

FISCAL CHALLENGES: Bozeman and other cities and counties were unsuccessful in their effort to persuade the state Legislature to allow communities like ours to vote on whether to tax tourists in order to provide tax relief to Montanans. What policies or approaches do we try next time? And if successful, should a program go toward specific projects—say a new intersection—or to reduce property taxes?

It’s great to see citizens step forward and run for office. Let’s use this election to have constructive and detailed discussions about our community’s future.

Chris Mehl, who is not up for election this year, is the deputy mayor of Bozeman.