By Michael Howell
Stevensville Town Council members expressed surprise and incredulity at last week’s council meeting when they were informed that the town’s auditor, Terry Burke, was canceling his contract to audit the town’s books for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2010.
It’s a problem because the town is engaged in two multi-million dollar utility improvement projects, based on grants and loans, leaving a few agencies hungry for up to date audit information. Mayor Gene Mim Mack told the council that he had already been contacted by a Rural Development official, Dan Johnson, who expressed concern about the status of the audit and said he had questions about the completeness of the Town’s books.
The last audit completed was for the fiscal year 2008-09 and Burke was contracted to begin work on the 2009-2010 books last January and finish by this June.
The Town received a letter from the Department of Administration State Accounting Division informing it that Burke had requested the termination of his contract because, “he was not able to start or perform the audit in the time frame specified by the contract.” The state recommended that the Town seek another auditor.
“This is news,” said Councilor Desera Towle. “I’m dumbfounded. I feel betrayed that he has waited so long to tell us.” She said that if he found the information submitted by the Town to be incomplete that he should have informed them.
Councilor Dan Mullan was in agreement. He asked the Town Clerk Sue Gibson if there had been any dialogue with the auditor after submitting the initial information he asked for. Gibson stated she had received a list of information needed and that she had provided it in a timely fashion.
“If he was missing something, he didn’t tell us,” said Gibson.
It was agreed to send a letter to the state acknowledging the dissolution of the contract but also expressing the Town’s view, for the record, that it is not responsible for any delay in the auditor’s work.
The mayor indicated that he would be contacting prospective auditors as soon as possible. The council also voted to budget $10,000 for the audit contract.
Airport grant application approved
The Council also approved a grant application to the Montana Department of Transportation Aeronautics Division for a taxiway extension project to provide spaces for more commercial hangars and T-hangars at the airport. The $291,000 project would be paid for by two grants, one from the Federal Aviation Administration for $276,000, the one being applied for from the state aeronautics division for $7,250, and a match from the Town’s Airport Fund for $7,300.
Airport manager Don Misevic told the Council that the Airport had about $30,000 in cash on hand. He said annual revenue was about $21,000. Annual expenses are about $7,000 for operation and maintenance and about $1,000 for insurance. He said the Airport also had debt service of about $10,000 annually, leaving its budget about $3,000 in the black. It also has two CDs dedicated toward future runway improvements.
TIF District funds committed
The Council approved a resolution committing the funds generated by the newly established North Stevensville Tax Increment Financing District for gap financing should it be required for the District’s sewer improvement project. If the federal grant should come through, depending on the amount, matching funds through a loan from the Montana Board of Investments at 4.67 percent may be required. If so, the town is committing to use TIF District tax revenues to provide necessary funds to pay back the loan.
Ravalli County Economic Development Authority Director Julie Foster, who is handling the grant/loan package, told the council that the TIF District’s revenues have been estimated to be about $11,000 per year.
Mayor Mim Mack was authorized to sign any necessary paperwork relative to the CDBG grant.
Following a subsequent discussion about a proposed resolution creating a TIF District Advisory Board, necessary for administration of the district, the matter was tabled until Nov. 28th for modification.
Mayor questions committee process
During his executive report at the council meeting Mayor Mim Mack questioned the legitimacy of a committee recently established by Council President Robin Holcomb to review a personnel grievance complaint.
Mim Mack said it had come to his attention that the Council President had appointed herself and two other people to a committee and that the committee had met and begun an information gathering process.
“No individual council member can proceed to form a committee on their own without approval of the Council,” said Mim Mack. He said that the proper procedure would be to first get council approval for the establishment of the committee.
“I have no problems with the creation of any committee that the council deems necessary to perform its duties, but I am really concerned that if we create a committee that is open to question about its legal standing that we start off on the wrong foot,” said Mim Mack. He asked for the suspension of the committee until it comes before the council.
Town Attorney Keithi Worthington disagreed. She said there are many kinds of committees, some are administrative and don’t need council involvement. She said this committee was doing administrative business and not council business.
Council President Robin Holcomb said that she was doing what she had been told by the Town’s attorney, which was that she did not need council approval to make the committee appointments.
Mayor Mim Mack said that based on what’s in the Town’s policy manual and after checking with the Local Government Center, creating such a committee “without question needs council approval.”
“This is not administrative, this is an issue of significant public interest,” said Mim Mack.
Worthington countered that it was a grievance matter, not a standing committee and involved the gray area of personal privacy rights.
Mim Mack countered that Worthington was splitting hairs. He said that her guidance seemed to be at odds with the normal process and he believed that a committee created that way would be open to legal challenge.
Worthington said there was a serious time issue. She said it was necessary to respond to an employee grievance in a timely matter and they should not have to start all over again. She reiterated that it was an administrative committee for the benefit of the employee. She said that it had always been done this way with no protest and she was not aware that any employee was challenging the process.
“I’m challenging the process,” said Mim Mack.
He quoted the time lines involved from the personnel policy and said there was plenty of time to place it on the next agenda and get the thing going. He said there was a clear benefit to the employee to have a clear process that can’t be challenged by the law.
“I believe that it provides protection for the employee, it does not unduly delay the process and this will be a more successful process in the future. I also believe that Montana statute requires this committee to be established by council,” he said.
Worthington reiterated that it was not a subcommittee of the council but an administrative one.
“It says right here, ‘the sub-committee shall write a report’,” said Mim Mack.
“But it’s administrative,” said Worthington.
“I see nothing that says it’s an administrative committee and I could find nothing in the statutes or from anyone else’s opinion who seem to handle these things that suggests it is simply an administrative task,” said Mim Mack.
Worthington said that she would consider the Mayor’s concerns and give him some response.
Councilor Desera Towle made an official request to have the issue placed on the next council agenda for action. The Mayor agreed to do so.
A special meeting to address the matter was scheduled for November 16 but was adjourned due to lack of a quorum. Subsequently, according to the mayor, the grievance matter “was resolved.”
In other business the council:
• approved a street closure and a burn permit for the annual Parade of Lights and Christmas Gift Fair street corner fire pits.
• authorized the Mayor to pursue an extension of the well field agreement between the Town and Alan and Janice Kelley for up to nine months, if possible. The agreement concerns the possible purchase of property from the Kelleys for use as a well field.