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Meeting Missoula County’s next challenges

Wednesday, April 18, 2018 
Josh Slotnick, Missoulian Guest Column

My name is Josh Slotnick. I'm a Democrat running for Missoula County commissioner.

It's been 35 years since I moved to Missoula. If the young version of myself saw the Missoula of today, he would barely recognize it. The wood stoves have faded away (the air is cleaner), the river runs cleaner now too, thanks to a Superfund, outdoor recreation became a national pastime and an economic force, and we revived our downtown. Our population has grown by more than 50 percent since then. Many folks (maybe you) have come to Missoula looking for access to beautiful public lands and a real place with character, culture and quality of life not found in the fast-homogenizing areas they left behind.

Over the past 35 years, Missoula's per capita income has grown madly as well, but earnings per job have only increased by 1 percent; 40 percent of our income now comes from investment, rather than wages. Meanwhile, the rate of in-migration has topped 60 percent. All that means people with options are choosing to live here, and this influx has driven demand for housing. People come willing to take on the economic challenge that is Missoula. Now housing costs wildly outpace income.

While land use policies, and some of our politicians, have not changed, our community has transformed. Affordable housing, planning for the future and promoting growth that benefits our community long-term have vexed our officials for decades now. This needs to change. We need to take these issues on, rather than let them define us.

The combination of our gorgeous landscape and vibrant, authentic culture make us highly desirable and drives growth. Our quality of life and our prosperity depend on us maintaining the best of what we have, but that's only half of the puzzle.

Our challenge looking forward is two-fold:

  1. To preserve, enhance and grow our strengths: the land and culture.
  2. To create an economically inclusive future that serves all Missoulians.

I believe we can meet these challenges, but not in the piecemeal, reactive and passive manner of the last 18 years. We have to take active, cooperative steps to preserve and maintain our landscape and grow our culture. We must partner across government lines, and with for-profit and nonprofit developers to meet our affordable housing needs. We don't need to swallow our values (e.g., the bitcoin mine in Bonner) to encourage businesses. Businesses want to be here, because people want to be here.

I'm a candidate because I believe the greatest skill and responsibility of our county commissioners is to bring people together and intentionally guide growth forward in a way that serves us all. We've seen the sheriff's department, planning boards and city council bring forth new and innovative ideas. I believe all of our commissioners need to be willing to talk, meet and listen when these groups approach them, and some have not. We need a change from the last 18 years in how we do local politics. Smart people fill our county, our government needs to engage, listen, deliberate and take action; watching the future happen to us is no longer acceptable.

We must maintain the quality of life amenities that keep people here, while simultaneously making our prosperity inclusive. We have to actively take on all of it: sustainable growth, economic disparity and climate change, as one issue -- the future.

I'm running for commissioner because I know we can work together to make the next 18 years a new era, fairer and prosperous for all county residents. Please join me.