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Another Cost Of Growth: Will Voters In Bozeman Approve A Tax Hike For Better Public Safety Facilities?

Tim Crawford says the fire and police departments need new digs because of the development boom, but why do all citizens get asked to pay the bill?

New subdivisions have created greater demand for services, including larger police and fire departments, new schools, and infrastructive that is costly to build and brings with it accumulating burdens to maintain.  Columnist Crawford asks, "where is the sidewalk of growth leading us?"  Photo by Tim Crawford
New subdivisions have created greater demand for services, including larger police and fire departments, new schools, and infrastructive that is costly to build and brings with it accumulating burdens to maintain. Columnist Crawford asks, "where is the sidewalk of growth leading us?" Photo by Tim Crawford
As the communities in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem suffer the pressures of increasing growth, often a result of urban flight from elsewhere, Bozeman can be seen as a paradigm for better or worse.  

One odd conundrum is this often voiced desire to return to places of “simpler lifestyles,” but with all the conveniences of the places from which they flee.  I hope the following can give a clearer perspective of paths to be taken or avoided in the process of a livable future being achieved with town growth.

In a recent letter in the Bozeman Daily Chronicle (which unfortunately you can't read unless you're subscriberDeputy Mayor Chris Mehl asks his readers to join him in supporting the public safety bond in the coming election. His letter contains the usual and proper reasons for the need of a new $37-million public safety building; improved facilities for the fire and police departments. 

At no time does he mention culpability for this request by the city or Bozeman City Commission. Apparently the public and their representatives are to assume these costs are a natural consequence of growth which arguably we all benefit from. On the city website, Bozeman leaders acknowledge that in 20 years, at current conservative growth rates, the city alone will double to 100,000 people. 

Take a second here, close your eyes and try to imagine.

The notion that intensive infill in Bozeman's core will appreciably slow the sprawl now rapidly chewing up land in the county, absent a coherent coordinated growth management plan with the county, is both naive and a shibboleth.

Increases in the need for enhanced policing, fire departments, ,increasing urban infrastructure demands, and new schools with multi-million-dollar prep football stadiums are indeed outcomes of growth because they didn't exist in such epic proportions before the accelerated growth began. 

This may be rote American acceptance of the general beliefs about civic expansion.  Yet it is coming under ever-increasing scrutiny and it will remain a topic that I intend to keep exploring. But, back to the public safety building now on the ballot.
"Soon this trailer park will have completely disappeared and along with it those on limited income who knew it as one of the increasingly rare places they could afford if they wanted to live in Bozeman," Crawford says. "Pricey condos will rise in their place that may generate more tax revenue but what's the value of the people they're replacing?"  Photo by Tim Crawford
"Soon this trailer park will have completely disappeared and along with it those on limited income who knew it as one of the increasingly rare places they could afford if they wanted to live in Bozeman," Crawford says. "Pricey condos will rise in their place that may generate more tax revenue but what's the value of the people they're replacing?" Photo by Tim Crawford
Commissioner Mehl in the Chronicle story refrains from possibly confusing the reader with the mention of other designs or options favored by many of those familiar with our town’s quandary.  

As Gallatin County Sheriff Gootkin and others have pointed out, separating the offices of the county sheriff and the city police will not result in greater efficiency for either departments.  In fact, given the relative chaotic growth in this area, greater safety for the citizens of both the city and county would be retained by keeping the departments working in concert.  This may even further cooperation between the two entities as is desired by informed members of both.

At present, as noted earlier,  the city and county have no serious strategy for dealing with growth, confronting escalating costs of growth and sprawl or protecting key pieces of landscape important to wildlife

Better honesty and planning on the part of the citizen representatives and staff in burgeoning cities and counties like ours can easily show or even stop the shift of these (inevitable?) costs to the established tax base. Of course, asking the developers and purchasers to pay for the true costs of growth would probably slow the growth so beloved in Chamber of Commerce mythology.  

We all have been well-versed in the belief that if growth is not occurring, stagnation and entropy will be the inevitable result. Some even predict economic death.  Being American, the idea that if anything is good, more of it must be better. And as Americans we also have a seemingly natural antipathy to limits and regulations. In fact, recent political notions have toxified the very idea of regulation outside of those activities deemed criminal by society.  

Think back to the economic crisis of ’08-’09, a result of banking deregulation and unchecked greed.  Oddly enough another subject of political toxicity is the raising of taxes.  This apparently is held in abeyance when considering the transfer of growth costs from those directly benefitting, to the general tax base.
"When all the suburbs begin to look the same, it doesn't matter where you live," Crawford says. Photo by Tim Crawford
"When all the suburbs begin to look the same, it doesn't matter where you live," Crawford says. Photo by Tim Crawford
Oh well, I guess we cannot expect a posture of humble economic responsibility from those of civic ambition. 

Somehow it seems predecessors have laid the groundwork and rules inviolate for those following the established paradigm It would be wise to weigh the consequences of any safety bond election before entering your vote, as passing it could effectively nullify the options.

Tim Crawford
About Tim Crawford

Tim Crawford once served as a city commissioner in the resort town of Ketchum, Idaho as it contended with growth. Today, he is a downtown Bozeman businessman, a Gallatin Valley farmer, professional photographer and lifelong conservationist who loves to hunt and fish.
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