by William Skink
I’m going to begin this post with a dry, boring definition of tax increment financing. The mysterious dossier and the strange tale of how a decorated whistleblower got banned from Missoula city council will come later.
Here is a definition of TIF from wikipedia:
Tax increment financing (TIF) is a public financing method that is used as a subsidy for redevelopment, infrastructure, and other community-improvement projects in many countries, including the United States. The original intent of a TIF program is to stimulate private investment with a blighted area that has been designated to be in need of economic revitalization.
I’m starting with this bland description of an abstract financing tool because understanding this tool is important. One of the claims our elected officials are making about members of the public, like myself, who are criticizing how this tool is being used is that we don’t understand their financial wizardry.
We do understand, we are helping other people understand, and I think that is seen as quite threatening to the individuals and entities financially benefiting from their addiction to public money and what it can do for them.
Covering the TIF beat with no Indy around has felt a bit lonely, but thanks to the proposed redevelopment of “blighted” prime real estate along the river that runs through our idyllic mountain town, a surge of energy from some sharp, creative people has brought a new level of awareness and scrutiny to our elected officials.
And they don’t like it one bit.
The use of TIF in Missoula and its role in the larger problem of gentrification is the primary concern for those of us showing up to PUBLIC meetings and providing PUBLIC comments.
Because there are dire consequences that can result from the stress of a rapidly gentrifying community, and one man’s attempt to manage his stress through recording and posting videos on his Youtube channel has suddenly transformed the policy criticism into a much more volatile situation.
Some of the activism that’s been happening around the misuse of TIF in Missoula has been put together by the folks who do The Outer Limits, a fantastic radio show on KBGA 89.9 FM that usually airs every Saturday from 2-4pm.
I say usually because today there was no Outer Limits on KBGA.
Instead of a show there is THIS INCREDIBLE POST about the situation with Brandon Bryant, an alleged cyber stalker against Bryant (who apparently facilitated the awareness of City Council to an edited clip of the threatening video that resulted in him being banned from all city property) and that dossier I mentioned, which seems to raise some questions about whether or not Mayor Engen has benefited financially from how the city directs lucrative contracts to developers.
The narrative of misusing public tax money is now quickly transforming into the narrative of a scared City Council who must bring in additional police officers in order to feel safe.
But, while members of Council may feel reassured with more uniforms present, I will point out that police officers actually do live in our community and experience the negative impacts of gentrification as well. As communities get squeezed by the skyrocketing cost of keeping a roof over their heads, the visceral realities of the self-destructive behavior that results from hopelessness and desperation is something law enforcement knows too well.
To help keep the focus on what’s important, which is building awareness of the greed driving gentrification through methods like exploiting TIF, I followed through on my Hip Strip outreach regarding the 4th street condo project. In every store I stopped in, I found receptive people rightfully concerned about the dynamics transforming our community.
And, unlike the experience of the council member who threw shade on Hip Strip stores by claiming she was often the only customer in their establishments, I saw lots of customers shopping in the little shops our elected officials claim to support, but are driving out of business with their policies.