Source: Billings Gazette Guest Editorial March 19, 2017
Image Credit: Tony Smith
Who can better judge what your community needs – you, or state officials? The answer is obvious; you can. Unfortunately, Montana law does not trust you to decide what your community needs or how to pay for it. We can change that by enacting legislation that allows a community to vote on whether to adopt a limited-duration, limited-rate local tax on alcohol, prepared foods, lodging, and luxury goods to fund specific voter-approved infrastructure projects and mandatory property tax relief.
Communities all over Montana are struggling to maintain and improve their infrastructure without raising property taxes. The American Society of Civil Engineers recently gave a C- grade to Montana’s aging transportation, water, sewer, and other public facilities. According to the ASCE, 80 percent of Montana cities have no program to replace old wastewater piping before there is an emergency.
It took almost five years for Laurel to cobble together funds to repair its critical water intake from the Yellowstone River. Billings has not had funds to develop a large, general-use park for almost half a century, and the dream of finally developing the river corridor for parks, trails and other public uses is starting to look like a fantasy that will never happen. As the cumulative burden of our crumbling infrastructure increases, how are we – and our children – going to fix this mess?