As Jeff Bezos transforms Seattle into a corporate nightmare, many are concerned that Wisconsin millionaire Nick Checota is doing the same to Missoula. There are already four major concert venues in Missoula owned and operated by Checota, but Mayor Engen and the Missoula City Council are forcing local taxpayers to further line Checota’s pockets with $16.5 million of local tax monies to help build another. Nick’s newest corporate eyesore, the Riverfront Gentrification Triangle may be the most costly and wasteful development in the town’s history.
To make matters worse, The Missoulian is peddling an awful rumor that the local community strongly supports and encourages this monstrous taxpayer giveaway. In a climate where a majority of Missoula taxpayers are struggling worse than ever to make ends meet, Checota has somehow convinced our intrepid representatives to further squeeze an already desperate community for just a little more.
Mayor Engen’s decision to suddenly move the Council vote from Monday October 21st to Wednesday the 16th highlights how politicians tend to obfuscate where tax money is actually being spent.
If that wasn’t bad enough, Lee Enterprises propagandized Missoula by pigeonholing one citizen – Kevin Hunt – as “the only member of the public to speak critically about the project.”
But public comment at this week’s City Council meeting makes it abundantly clear that a far greater number of Missoulians loathe the idea of handing Nick Checota millions in tax money to construct yet another corporate monument to his ego. Nearly a dozen individuals took to the lectern Monday night to express Missoula’s increasing irritation toward the constant misuse and abuse of Tax Increment Financing or TIF – a tax collection scheme that funnels property tax money away from overburdened taxpayers to help rich assholes like Nick Checota smother what’s left of an affordable community.
Because for TIFs to work, property values must increase forever, further guaranteeing that locals on fixed incomes will be driven out of town. Property taxes rising in perpetuity forces Missoulians to leave the buildings they inhabit, causing those buildings to be demolished and in-turn those areas are declared “blighted” thereby necessitating the use of ever-more TIF. Developers love this cycle of destruction because it’s good for business, but it’s bad for everyone else.
Paying for new projects with tax money that doesn’t exist yet seems a precarious gamble, but forcing Montanans to further enrich an obscenely wealthy Wisconsinite is just plain wrong. If the city continues to abuse TIF by siphoning tax money from hard working Montanans to construct objects of disgraceful gentrification, then TIF as a process should be outlawed.
But the fundamental issue now is NOT whether this development is good for the community. The issue now is that our officials are installing one of the most significant development projects in the city’s history without the opinions of the people whose property taxes will pay for it.
The reasoning for abruptly fast-tracking the meeting couldn’t be more self-contradictory: Mayor Engen says he was trying to avoid rumors, so he thought that a good way to avoid rumors would be to sneak around and deliberately exclude home owners from necessary and critical discussion forums regarding the monstrosity they’ll be paying for?
The Missoula taxpayers didn’t consent to this, and consent is something Missoula should know a lot about. After all, Krakauer wrote a book about Missoula’s consent issues. That book was supposed to help put an end to our consent problems especially when it concerns city officials enabling criminal activity. But Nick Checota continues to Jam his Log down our throat anyway.
These kinds of shenanigans are why people have lost faith in democratic government; because crony-capitalism is just “organized crime” further enriching millionaire fat cats.
TIF money was used to further enrich Bill Coffee at Stockman Bank.
TIF money was used to further enrich Andy Holloran at the Mercantile.
TIF money was used to further enrich Peter Lambros at Southgate Mall.
And now a TIF larger than all the others combined will be used to further enrich Nick Chectoa.
Should it be our local government’s priority to further enrich local tycoons while homelessness in Missoula is now so bad that we have billboards announcing the exact number of homeless children in our town?
Tax Increment Financing shouldn’t act as the “silver bullet” the MRA and other wealthy interests turn to in order to extort tax money out of local citizens to pay for things we don’t need. If you can’t explain tax collection schemes to the people paying, then you shouldn’t be doing them.
The Missoula City Council and Mayor Engen refuse to account for fact that this vote was moved ahead of schedule with little reason or notice. Hiding a City Council vote on this very important issue is an absolutely despicable way to dispel troublesome rumors or increase voter confidence.
If the policies of the Mayor and the Missoula City Council benefit only extremely wealthy elite business owners and out-of-town hotel chains at the detriment of the citizenry, then what recourse do the people of Missoula have other than to exercise their electoral power and call for sweeping changes to the staffing of the City Council this coming November 5th?
We owe our children better than this.
We owe NOTHING to Nick Checota.
Gabrielle Lafayette is the executive producer for the Outer Limits Radio Show.
This cache of thought is presented free of charge as a service and gift to you.
May our eternal vigilance help liberate all beings from the smoke-and-mirrors deceptions of the Samsaric Panopticon.