It’s hard to believe it’s been four years on the Helena City Commission. It’s been an honor to serve, and we’ve had some great accomplishments. But we can’t rest on our laurels. We have to build on our successes.
Four years ago, the City had no long term plans for funding Helena’s street, water, wastewater and storm water needs. Today we have the plans, and the money, to invest in our long-term infrastructure. At a time when there is no help coming from the State and federal governments, Helena can tackle its own needs. This translates to millions of dollars in local investment. But equally important, we achieved this in a way that was fair to residents. We reversed years of regressive rate increases, unfair to homeowners. I’m proud to have been part of these efforts.
Four years ago, the Caird Property was a brownfield and the City had no plan for the surrounding Railroad District. Today, Caird is clean, in private hands, and ready for development. We established a Tax Increment Financing District in the Railroad District. In its first year alone, the district has already seen over $100,000 in increment. This is tangible economic development in the heart of Helena. In the coming years, this district will provide needed funds for infrastructure, transportation, redevelopment and the Centennial Trail. I’m proud to have called on my fellow Commissioners to create this district.
In the last four years, Helena has promoted energy independence of its residents. The City has invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in residential solar. This is clean, sustainable energy, installed by local businesses. The City has encouraged conservation of water, our most precious resource, through tiered water rates. In their first year of implementation, these rates reduced water consumption and saved the taxpayers money. That’s a win-win for conservation and residents’ bottom line. I’m proud to have been an integral part of these efforts.
These achievements make Helena successful. They make us a stronger community, grow our tax base, and make our City a place people want to live and do business. But we need a Commission that will keep the momentum going. Continued funding for infrastructure will only happen with a Commission that is dedicated to investing in Helena’s future. We need a Commission that will not fall back on bad habits of inequitable and regressive rate increases. I’ll continue to support funding our infrastructure in a way that is equitable to all City residents.
We need a Commission that will create a Downtown Tax Increment Financing District. Downtown is our cultural, historic and community center. It’s home to our most valuable properties. It’s a no-brainer to invest where we get the best bang for our buck. These funds will support the implementation of the Downtown Master Plan. They’ll assist in redevelopment of properties like the old Blue Cross Blue Shield buildings. I have, and will, continue to support investment in Downtown.
Helena is getting too expensive, too quickly, for too many residents. The City needs to partner with local organizations that are already working on this problem. The City has an active role to play in promoting quality affordable rentals and affordable homeownership. In addition, the City needs to support existing homeowners through assistance programs that can help with catastrophic events, like the failure of a sewer or water line.
It’s an exciting time for Helena. We’ve laid the groundwork, but we need to elect a Commission that will keep building on these successes. I know I’m ready to work toward these goals, and to keep making Helena an even better place to live.