ISSUES & THOUGHT-STARTER IDEAS
It all starts with a vision, which will inform my priorities, activities and decisions. Here's my vision:
“To ensure Bozeman is a connected, caring community where families can thrive, our workforce can live and our collective passion for the outdoors is maintained.”
I'll ask myself the following questions about the issues that come before the commission:
Does this improve the community's sense of connection and mutual caring?
How does this issue impact the most vulnerable among us?
Does this help families - particularly young families - thrive in Bozeman?
How does this impact our workforce's ability to live within Bozeman City limits?
Does this help us maintain our identity as an outdoor-oriented community?
Below are some of my key priorities for Bozeman. I admit that I don't have a "silver-bullet" solution for every issue that faces our growing community, but I promise to listen to all stakeholders before making key policy decisions.
Proposals Generated During My Campaign
Bozeman can leverage its resources and budgets by collaborating with other community partners in areas of mutual interest. We should undertake shared planning and visioning sessions with the leaders of Gallatin County, MSU, Bozeman Health, the Bozeman Chamber of Commerce, area non-profits and major employers; we will no doubt find areas for collaboration. For example, we might apply for community wellness grants in conjunction with Bozeman Health and Community Health Partners, or we can work with the Bozeman School District to jointly construct athletic fields.
I believe we're missing opportunities by not working more closely with Gallatin County Commissioners. I plan to attend County Commission meetings - in a fact-finding and relationship-building capacity - to convey a willingness to work together to shape our community's future.
Employer-Assisted Workforce Housing
Bozeman's housing prices are a function of a market-driven economy with great demand - a growing population - and limited supply. Housing prices have been the primary driver of our recent cost of living increases, which are outpacing real income growth for wage-earners. We've done a great job of creating a community that has become one of the most desirable places to live in America, but a consequence of our high-demand housing market is that many of our most vital employees - police officers, teachers, nurses, etc. - can't find an affordable home in Bozeman.
I have developed a discussion document to outline the opportunities for employer-assisted workforce housing in the Bozeman market - including case studies, an analysis of which employers might benefit by offering such a program and a blueprint for moving forward. Download the document here.
Our Identity as an Outdoor Community
Bozeman is consistently listed as one of the top outdoor-oriented communities in the nation. Our proximity to mountains, hiking and biking trails, ski slopes, game-rich forests, trout streams, snowmobile trails and ice climbing routes makes Bozeman a true outdoor mecca. Gallatin County has consistently been the healthiest county in Montana, but childhood obesity & diabetes rates are increasing year over year.
We need to maintain our connection to the outdoors and pass it along to our youngest residents by:
Hiring 2 more full-time recreation employees to expand Bozeman's outdoor recreation programs.
Instituting a city-wide Park Improvement District to ensure the maintenance and expansion of our inventory of parks.
Diversify our subdivision parks. Rather than continuing to build cookie-cutter playground sets, let's build splash parks, ice rinks, dog parks and tennis courts.
A Connected Community
In the 18 years I've lived in Bozeman, I've noticed that we've slipped a bit in terms of our interactions with one another. We don't always say "hello" on trails and in parks. We don't always treat each other civilly in crowded shopping centers and while driving. As our population increases, we can lose our sense of mutual accountability and interdependence. We need to engage new residents so they have opportunities to connect with the community and we need to foster a sense of "neighborhood" as we continue to grow.
An Idea: Collaborative Workforce Housing Initiatives
By investing in workforce housing for employees and their families, employers can fill positions more easily and increase employee efficiency, morale and retention. Having employees live close to their workplace reduces traffic, pollution and strain on city resources. The University of Washington and Seattle Children's Hospital have partnered with a real estate capital investment company and an apartment management company - with a 30-year lease on U of W property - to construct two different housing options for their employees. Read the article here. What if the city of Bozeman engaged Bozeman Health and Montana State University in a discussion about a similar project using land on either of their campuses? As competition for qualified employees increases, this might be a viable option to consider.
An Idea: Multi-Family Property Tax Exemption Program
I believe we need to tackle Bozeman's lack of affordable housing from the "bottom-up" starting with increasing the supply of affordable rental units so Bozeman's hourly workers don't have to choose between a long commute from a surrounding town or cramming 4-6 roommates into a Bozeman rental home. The state of Washington has created a program that cities can take advantage of by offering developers a 8-12 year exemption from property taxes on the developed property (not land) provided they set aside 20-25% of the units as income- and rent-restricted. The town decides where they want such development to occur and they manage the application process. These programs are proving very successful in towns like Tacoma, Lynnwood and Bremerton. I'd like to explore how Bozeman can offer similar incentives either as part of a future statewide program or on a standalone basis. Learn more about Bremerton, Washington's program here.
An Idea: Empower Neighborhoods to be Sources of Connection:
It's been said that we are citizens of a city but we "live" in neighborhoods. It's only natural to develop a connection with those people and families who live nearby, who shovel adjacent walkways and whose children also play at the neighborhood park. Bozeman's Neighborhood Program helps neighborhoods - new and old - create groups that help foster a sense of collective connectivity so they can organize events, plan volunteer projects and provide input on issues of neighborhood importance. We can assist in this effort by promoting the program more conspicuously, identifying and contacting potential program leaders and celebrating the neighborhood association's successes in a public manner at commission meetings.
An Idea: Gallatin County Greenbelt Recreation Loop
When I was on the Steering Committee for the Trails, Open Space and Parks Bond, one of the committee members proposed an audacious concept: let's develop a greenbelt loop trail that can be accessed for hiking, biking, Nordic skiing and possibly light motorized use that rings the Bozeman area. It struck me as an inspired idea. Other cities and towns (Idaho Falls, ID, Austin, TX, Atlanta, GA, Scottsdale, AZ) have successfully installed some variation on the greenbelt loop theme. It would require significant planning and coordination between Bozeman and Gallatin County to identify possible route options. The city of Bozeman can partner with an organization such as the Trust for Public Land to organize a study group to research possible options before all the available routes are fully developed.
Making Animal Control a Priority
It's no secret that Bozeman is dog-crazy. There are believed to be more dogs in Gallatin County than kids under 18. But Bozeman has leash and dog waste ordinances that are largely ignored by dog owners. As a result, dog-related conflicts are becoming more prominent in our parks and trails. As Executive Director of Run Dog Run, I receive frequent complaints from people who say they no longer take their kids to parks due to out-of-control, off-leash dogs. According to benchmarking studies, Bozeman should have 3+ full-time Animal Control officers. We have 1.25 - and frequently fewer than that. With all of the demands placed on our limited Animal Control staff, they cannot properly patrol our parks and trails, so there is a very little chance of getting a ticket for not cleaning up after one's dog. We have signs, leash kiosks, dog waste bags and trash receptacles, but we don't have proper enforcement. I believe that allocating the correct resources to this issue will improve our quality of life. Click here for a document discussing this issue from Run Dog Run.
Mental & Behavioral Health Crisis
Gallatin County's mental health programs - particularly those at Gallatin Mental Health Center - are in crisis or "crumbling" (see this article) with Hope House closures, staffing shortages and lack of funding. And this is only one segment of the patchwork (or in some cases, non-existent) mental and behavioral health programs that are needed in order to address our long-term needs. It's neither cheap nor easy to develop a comprehensive mental and behavioral health continuum of care in Southwest Montana, but we have the resources to do so if we (here's that phrase again) collaborate around a shared vision. The city needs to play a leadership role (as opposed to a major funding role) in bringing together the various players, to develop an action plan and creating funding strategies.
A political first: we made a concerted effort to deliver on campaign promises DURING the campaign rather than merely saying we "support" certain causes during the election process. Click on the source material below to see what I'd like to enact in order to build a better Bozeman:
Protecting Open Spaces, Habitat and Ag Land: I testified 3 times before the County Commission in support of the proposed Open Space Bond initiative. See the text of one of my comments here.
Expanding Bozeman's Curbside Recycling Program: Our proposal to raise curbside recycling program participation above 50% can be accessed here.
Giving Bozeman Residents a Voice: Here is my proposal advocating for a neighborhood-specific early notification system maintained by the city that all Bozeman residents can sign up for to receive official public notification of any proposed change (zoning, development, road construction etc.) that will occur in their neighborhood. A similar program is being executed in Manhattan, KS with great success.
Reaching Animal Control Benchmarks: See my proposal here to increase the number of animal control officers in Bozeman to a level consistent with recommended benchmarks for Bozeman's population base.