By Michael Howell
Stevensville Mayor Gene Mim Mack issued his first pardon serving as executive authority for the Town of Stevensville last week when he pardoned a motorist who had been cited for speeding on Main Street.
The motorist, who was traveling south on Main Street, was stopped in front of the parking lot of the former Cottonwood Market by a city patrolman and ticketed for driving 35 mph in a 25 mph zone. The motorist disputed the charge and eventually called Chief of Police James Marble, asking him to come and assess the situation.
According to Mim Mack, Chief Marble responded and found the situation to be complex and ambiguous and recommended that the mayor pardon the offense and save everyone the hassle of going to court over an offense that was fraught with ambiguities.
Mim Mack said the citation noted the location of the violation was at the intersection of Main and South Ave. When proceeding south on Main through downtown, the speed limit is posted at 25 mph. But that changes at the sign posted just on the other side of South Avenue where it increases to 35 mph. Technically, according to Mim Mack, the speed limit doesn’t change until the motorist reaches the sign, even though most people may speed up a bit before reaching the sign post. Complicating matters, according to Mim Mack, is the fact that the speed limit in the northbound lane entering Stevensville from the south is posted at 25 mph before the point where the speed limit changes in the southbound lane to 35 mph, making the speed limits inconsistent on different sides of Main Street for a short distance.
“Due to the ambiguity of the exact location of the vehicle in the intersection when it was clocked at 35 mph and the proximity to the signage, plus the ambiguity in the signage in the area, it seemed better to pardon the offense,” said Mim Mack. He said it was the police chief’s recommendation to issue a pardon for the ordinance violation and to address the signage issues.
The Town is still receiving complaints about the base rates for water use. The latest was in the form of a letter from a single woman pleading for a lower base rate because it does not seem fair to her that she pay $129 per month for water and sewer when she is the only person living in the house. Another property owner complained about the water rates as well, and demanded to see an accounting of how all the money being collected is being spent.
The council also heard a plea from a board member of the Stevensville Playhouse, Dan DePauw, asking the council to consider reducing the water rate for non-profits. The building, located on Main Street, is closed for part of the year. He said it seemed appropriate to reduce the rates especially since the building was not in use for much of the time. Several months ago, the Stevensville Museum board petitioned the council to waive its water rates, but the council declined to do so.
DePauw also asked the council to consider removing the one-way designation on the first block of Ravalli Street. He said he could see no good reason for the designation and believed it was not signed appropriately.
Mayor Mim Mack said that the Chief of Police had explained to him that the one-way designation was due to the narrow turning radius at the intersection. He recommended that the one-way designation be retained and the signage be improved.
Councilor Ron Klaphake said that there were several other streets in town with narrow turning radiuses that were not designated one-way and that he did not see any reason for either of the two one-way designations in town. The other street designated as one-way is the first alley east of Main Street. Both the matter of reduced water fees for non-profits and the one-way street designations will be placed on the agenda for discussion at the next council meeting.
The town has also received complaints recently about the changes in the lawn watering schedule that were made a few months ago. Instead of splitting the watering between odd and even numbered days, Sunday was set aside as a non-watering day in order to allow the town’s reservoir to re-fill. Residents are allowed in each designated area to water three days a week, either on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday or on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday starting at 12:01 am. The change has been confusing for some people. Councilor Desera Towle said that she had to take her automatic sprinkler system off the every other day automatic setting and use a custom setting instead.
Mim Mack said that every water user in town had been sent a card detailing the new watering schedule. But, he admitted, “It’s an area that continues to present administrative challenges.”
The council approved a $12,988 contract for ground water sampling related to the construction of the new polishing pond at the sewer plant. The town took ground water samples near the site when the old lagoon system was in operation. Now, since the lagoons were discontinued and the polishing pond was installed, DNRC wants the area tested again to see if nitrates and phosphorous levels have changed. According to Water Superintendent George Thomas, the tests will show whether the situation has improved or deteriorated since the lagoons were decommissioned.
The council also approved a draft ordinance changing the regulations governing itinerate transient vendors. Vendors participating in short-term community events with Special Event Permits are exempted from the new regulations, as are auctions, newspaper delivery, court ordered sales, school sponsored sales, local non-profits, farmers market vendors and philanthropic, religious, educational, or charitable causes.
Prohibitions for transient vendors include not blocking access to or from any business, not to be located within 15 feet of a fire hydrant, not to leave a stand unattended, to have available a fire extinguisher if cooking or heating, and to maintain a minimum of 42 inches straight and clear passage for pedestrians if located on a sidewalk. Vendors are allowed only between the hours of 8 a.m. and 10 p.m.
The new ordinance will be placed on the next council agenda for a first reading.
The council passed a resolution allowing the town’s employees, who have been granted $450 per month per employee for health benefits, to use those funds to assist in purchasing any health benefit offered by the town, which currently includes standard health insurance, dental insurance, vision insurance, life insurance, accidental death and dismemberment, and/or cancer insurance.
Despite a recommendation from the mayor to hire HDR Engineering to do a sewer system engineering project in the Tax Increment Financing District north of town, the council chose to give the contract to Professional Consultants Incorporated (PCI) instead.
The mayor formed a three-person committee, including himself, Councilor Bill Perrin and Julie Foster, Director of RCEDA, who is administering the grant funded project. He told the council that the committee rated the two applicants, which both already work for the town in on going water and sewer projects. The mayor reported that Foster rated PCI on a 100-point scale at 100 points while she rated HDR at 94 points. The Mayor and Perrin, on the other hand, both rated PCI at 97 and HDR at 100 points. Based on that rating the Mayor recommended hiring HDR.
Foster pointed out that PCI had done the preliminary engineering report for the project and thus were very familiar with the project. She said they also did it when no one else would consider the job. She advocated hiring PCI for those reasons.
Councilor Klaphake noted that the total points awarded to each company totaled the same, 297. He also said that he gave Foster’s opinion a lot of weight since she was the person that would be administering the project.
The town’s water and sewer superintendents both supported PCI for the job since they had already been working with them for years on the preliminary engineering for the project. Councilors Towle and Holcomb agreed and it was approved to hire PCI on a 3 to 1 vote with Perrin dissenting.
The council also approved a contract for civil legal services with attorney Brian West. West already serves as the town’s prosecuting attorney.
At a special hearing on July 12, the council gave approval to a variance request from Habitat for Humanity to combine three platted lots in town into two for the purpose of constructing two new homes. The new lots would be 112 square feet smaller than the required lot size.