1. Public safety is the most important issue. I’ll address budget below, so let’s jump straight to the other half of the issue. Contributing factors include: mental health, homelessness, discrimination and the reality that in the city core there’s little affordable or transitional housing and about a third of the buildings are vacant. These are all public safety issues. The solution lies in strategic development, which includes everything from zoning and ordinances to moving forward with the One Big Sky development plan. On council I will push for an inclusive, diverse city that addresses public safety in a comprehensive manner. This includes an improved budget for fire and police, but also policies that address and mitigate every single one of these contributing factors.
2. This problem has been building since 2004, and part of the reason I’m running is that over the last 15 years this issue hasn’t been adequately addressed. A few years ago I was assaulted downtown, which I share because it put public safety on my radar in a huge way. First, council needs to communicate with a unified voice that passing a public safety mill levy in 2020 is essential for our city. Secondly, we need to expand our economic base. We can do this by investing in our downtown so more people live and work in the core — this generates more in revenue (taxes) than development on the outskirts of the city, and comes with the added bonus of getting to use the old neighborhood fire stations. Investment in the downtown is like installing a fleet of new light bulbs; it can power the entire city, particularly our public safety needs as we grow.
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3. Although it’s hasn’t yet reached the critical mass of public safety, Yellowstone County faces an aging population crisis. In ten years, 40% of our workforce will be eligible for retirement, and we don’t have the bodies to replace them. Our Montana kids are moving to Bozeman, Missoula or out of state. One key reason is that when choosing a place to live, younger generations heavily prioritize investment in walkability, downtown living, public transport and excellent parks/trails. Yet for the last two decades many of these issues have been pushed to the bottom of the council’s priority pile. Now we’re here: the marathon loop doesn’t connect, bike lanes are fractured, our bus system is difficult to use, and we haven’t had a major city park developed in over 35 years. I want the next generation of Montanans to move back home, but that’s never going to happen if we keep doing what we’ve been doing. We need to crack open the budget and figure out how to make significant progress on our trails, bike lanes, and updates for city parks. I’m a writer by trade, so research like this is my wheelhouse — and I can’t wait to get started.
4. We have a strong business community in Billings, but they are continually running into roadblocks. Again and again we see businesses flee the downtown not because of management, but because of "city" issues: public safety, parking, lack of affordable housing, depressed foot traffic. As someone who used to run a small business, I see council’s role as one of forward-thinking, strategic support. For instance, if our city lacks the public infrastructure necessary for technology start-ups, we will never attract or sustain these businesses. Likewise, if our city isn’t attractive to Montana kids, our businesses will continue to face a workforce shortage. Economic development is critical for all of these reasons, and because it’s how we generate additional revenue for public safety.