The Missoula Current sent a candidate questionnaire to all City Council candidates ahead of the General Election in November. Below is the response from Ward 4 council candidate Amber Sherrill.

1. While this is a non-partisan race, how do you align politically?

I am a Democrat and am the only candidate in my race endorsed by the Missoula County Democrats. That being said, many local issues affect us all the same and need to be solved by working across party lines.

2. What do you see as the top issues facing the city at this point in time?

Housing, Climate Change and Taxes

3. What would you bring to the table to resolve your top issue?

I bring experience on council with regard to both housing, climate and taxes.  It takes time to understand all the nuances for these issues and what ways municipal government can help.

I will continue to support the affordable housing trust fund, our non-profit housing partners as well as the code reform effort to support housing. With regard to climate, I have spent much of my life in conservation and was the past interim Director of Five Valleys Land Trust.

I have chaired the Climate, Conservation and Parks Committee for the past four years and am currently working on the Renewable Rate Option team in order the bring a sustainable energy option to Missoulians.  See question #6 for more on taxes.

4. Do you support funding police and fire, and how would you help them gain the resources they need to do their job?

I support funding both police and fire.  I have a voting record that reflects this.  Public Safety is one of the most important elements of our job.

5. In what way do you support local businesses, both big and small?

I serve on the Missoula Economic Partnership (MEP) Board which has been an important partner with the city as well as businesses of all sizes in our community.  MEPs work to support local businesses includes childcare resources, workforce housing and job specific training programs.  I am also proud to be endorsed by the Missoula Area Central Labor Council as well as the Montana Labor Council.

6. The city is facing a budget crisis. How would you address it?

This is going to be tricky and hard.  Our tax system is broken.  Over a period of 10 plus years the state has shifted the tax burden away from large corporations and onto the shoulders of homeowners and renters.  This leaves families struggling and local governments underfunded.  If you aren't angry, you should be.

I will continue to advocate for statewide tax reform including a tourism tax. At the city level, I am also advocating moving to a priority-based budgeting system.  Beyond that we are going to need to make very hard decisions next year.

7. What areas would you cut to help the city balance its budget next fiscal year?

Again, I am advocating for a priority-based budget. This is a system that looks at funding our priorities, gives us ways to focus some of our funding in these areas and possibly cuts in programs that don't support those priorities.

I can't say at this point in time what the results of this will be, where we are able to possibly save and where we should be cutting. It is important to understand that the city is only about 1/3 of your tax bill and that Police, Fire and Roads as well as collective bargaining agreements are the vast majority of the cities portion of your bill.

8. How would you help address homelessness, and how does personal accountability come into play?

Homelessness is a crisis on a national level. Missoula is not immune, nor are the other cities around Montana.  Nationally we have not built enough housing, we have not supported mental healthcare, and during a massive opioid crisis we have underfunded substance abuse programs.

In addition to economic factors that have been developing for decades. The only system that has shown to work in pulling people out of homelessness are services.  We need to partner with non-profits in our community to provide services to get people into stable housing, connected with mental health services and into jobs.   The idea that people can 'pull themselves up by their bootstraps' when they have no address, no ID, and no consistent mental health and medical care, no access to showers and laundry is unrealistic. It simply isn’t a real plan and in the absence of a plan, the problem will only worsen. This should concern all of us. This is a non-partisan issue.

I have never spoken with someone, democrat or republican, that wants homelessness to be happening.  Whether you see it as a humanitarian crisis and hate to see people suffering, you worry about the public health effects (biohazards and trash), the environmental degradation, the economic impact, your personal safety (or that of your children), you just don't like seeing it, or more likely a combination...None of us want it. None of us.

In my opinion shelters are a band aid and services are the actual medicine. I absolutely believe in personal accountability, but people need to be in a place that this is possible first. Homelessness will exist regardless of our expectations, so I believe having a reasonable path to move people forward is critical.

9. How can the City of Missoula play a stronger role in supporting businesses and growing jobs?

Missoula Economic Partnership (MEP) is doing a great job with this and I am very proud to serve on their board.  The city needs to use the MRAs new rules to support workforce housing, partner with non-profits and UM to support training programs and support MEPs work in business development and recruitment.

10. How would you support housing development in Missoula without turning to subsidies like the Affordable Housing Trust Fund?

Code Reform is going to help us get more housing on the ground more quickly.  Making development more streamlined and predictable is going to be a big piece of this in addition to partnering with housing non-profits and working with the legislature.

Our vacancy rate is finally starting to improve allowing the gridlocked market to open up so housing prices and rents are beginning to stabilize.  We are far from being in a good place but targeted efforts to improve this are starting to work.  Obviously, interest rates as well as both prices and availability of materials will always play into this equation.

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