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With only a handful of meetings left for the current Missoula City Council, citizens could assume the group would sit back, relax, and maybe write a few e-mails (just kidding).

Nope. The Nov. 19th “abbreviated meeting” lasted just over four and a half hours.

Trying to finish off some knotty issues before four new members take office in January, Council tackled the Hillview Way Special Improvement District, and extended the Performing Arts Center land reservation for nine acres of the Riverfront Triangle.

Just five days earlier, the full Council, sitting as the Administrative and Finance Committee, voted 9-3 to deny the PAC land reservation, apparently signaling the end of the envisioned $60 million downtown entertainment venue.

But Mayor John Engen kept the PAC on life support when he surprised Monday’s audience with news that a private developer had met with him about buying the reserved land and possibly holding it for the PAC. Engen pointed out that a sale could provide funding for a sorely needed police station. PAC supporters, however, pointed out that a private developer would not necessarily be obligated to hold the land.

“If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work, but we can at least say we gave it our best shot and can move forward in good conscience,” Engen said.

That was enough for Ward 1’s Dave Strohmaier to make a substitute motion for the Mayor to pursue a land deal and report back to the Council in March. So rather than approve or deny the land reservation, Council voted 6-6—with Engen voting to break the tie—delaying the decisive action on the Riverfront Triangle PAC project until another day.

After the successful holding action on the PAC, the Council rolled up its sleeves for a two-hour public hearing on the Hillview Way SID, finally voting 8-4 to stop the $3.3 million road improvement. But the sudden end of the Hillview Way plan is probably only the beginning of what should become a much more expansive debate about funding mechanisms for civic infrastructure. Few question the need to repair Hillview, and several Council members made it clear they simply didn’t like the specific details of th\is particular SID. But judging from the recent election campaign, the next Council will likely consider abandoning SIDs altogether in favor of bonds or higher local fuel taxes.

With the PAC and Hillview out of the way, the current Council has probably seen its last substantial controversies. The meeting finally adjourned at 11:30, after a fitting crescendo for a group that has made habit of battling long into the night.
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