Billings is a great city located in a great setting and happens to be inhabited by a great group of industrious and optimistic people. We have the largest, most diverse economy and the largest workforce in a multistate region. We are located at a critical hub of transportation links of highways and railroads which fired our quick growth and gave us the name, “ Magic City.” Billings is a city of commerce with a vibrant and growing hospitality, live music and performance sector. We are a welcoming city where an enterprising family from elsewhere can come to settle, build a business and make a life. We have a lot to be proud of and nothing to be ashamed of.
But instead of gratitude for the assets we have, too many community leaders lately have been focusing only on the things they wish to change, including the nature of our community. Some support the NDO which I oppose as being an issue that divides us. There are fervently held beliefs on both sides and the live and let live credo needs to be universally applied. Some are boosting a new sales tax, under the name of “local option authority” that could cost the typical Billings household from $140 to $280 a year in exchange for a paltry $40 in property tax relief (SB331). Not a good deal. But my desire for taxpayers to recognize real property tax relief earned me a C from the Billings Chamber while I have a lifetime rating of 94 of 100 from the Montana Chamber for my consistent support of pro-jobs policies in the legislature. Go figure.
So, the question was asked, what is your vision for Billings and how would you achieve it over the next four years. I think the driver should be not necessarily what “my” vision is, but what the community’s vision is. The council needs to listen more to all voices in the community and I think a proposed charter change to give us smaller single member wards would permit better door to door campaigns by candidates for the council. We will be able to listen better.
My goal is to improve public safety. We have many neighborhoods where vehicles are necessarily parked at the curb and I have heard worries about theft and damage from many residents. It is shocking that Billings has the tenth highest rate of vehicle theft per capita in the country right now. We need to work on changing that. We need to work with our police to form a special victims unit so that crimes of sexual assault can be better investigated and prosecuted. And we need help from our federal authorities to attack the methamphetamine pipeline on our interstate highway so that this scourge is brought under control.
The Inner Belt Loop can be built with existing funds. But it should be coupled with a thoughtful rebuild of Zimmerman Trail that would mitigate the impact on homeowners along the trail. And the bike trail system should become the responsibility of the Parks and Recreation Department so that it is no longer treated as an orphan project and can be finished with use of existing funds.
The people of Billings have much to be thankful for. We want our community to thrive so that our families can thrive. We can accomplish this with listening and leadership.