By Michael Howell
The Stevensville Town Council, following a public hearing on the matter on Thursday, December 20, officially annexed the Stevensville Airport into the Town. The 3-0 vote was unanimous with Councilor Bill Perrin absent.
At the public hearing concerns were expressed by a few airport users about the potential effect of the annexation. One user said that he expected to get a refund of his $250 business fee since the town’s business fee was only $25. He stated that a refund of those fees was expected to create “parity” between airport businesses and other businesses in the town. He said the fees should be equal.
Councilor Ron Klaphake noted that currently no business licenses were being issued in town nor were any associated fees being collected. He said it was a problem because there is an existing ordinance requiring a business license but that it had never been enforced. He said the only business license fee was the $25 related to a Transient Business License. He said there was no fee for a regular business license in the downtown, although there was an ordinance requiring a license.
Concerns were also expressed about the new tax revenue being collected from airport users going to airport improvements rather than into the general fund where it might be spent on other things, “such as police cars.”
Klaphake stated that while airport taxes collected following annexation would go into the general fund, just like other town resident taxes, the Council was pursuing the creation of a Tax Increment Financing District at the airport that, if approved, would require any future increase in taxes from the district to stay in the district and be used for infrastructure improvements.
Mayor Gene Mim Mack said that town residents also had equally valid concerns about their tax dollars going out to the airport.
“It will take a period of time for airport users and town residents to get over this ‘us versus them’ mentality,” he said. He said it was going to be a hurdle and then take a track record of implementation to develop mutual trust over the issue.
“We think, over time, the benefits of this will become clear, that users will understand that there is a benefit that comes from this and that they are being treated fairly and equitably and that the town’s people will accept the same,” said Mim Mack. “But it’s an educational process.”
“So, it’s a wait and see and run it and watch kind of thing for the next year or so,” said airport user Paul O’Baggy.
“Yep,” said the Mayor. “And participate and let your voice be heard,” he added.
Councilor Desera Towle noted that once the TIFD was created a TIFD board would also be created that could include airport users.
Late in the meeting the Council returned to the question of the ordinance requiring business licenses for discussion only.
Klaphake said the ordinance needs some work. He said if it was enforced it would mean issuing from 85 to 90 business licenses in town. He noted the ordinance requires each license application to come before the Council for approval and found that impractical.
“It should be administrative,” he said. “If the applicant has met all the requirements for the license, it should just be issued. It doesn’t need the council’s discretion.”
Mim Mack noted that the building inspector supported the idea because it would provide an occasion to inform the applicant about building codes and permit requirements. He agreed that it was administrative and that his office could do it.
The price of a license was discussed and $25 was mentioned. Klaphake cautioned the Council that state law prohibits them from charging more than the cost of the services being provided.
At the end of the meeting Towle announced that she would not be seeking re-election to another term.
“But don’t think I’m leaving the Council early,” said Towle. “I will put in a full year.” Towle said she was announcing it early to give any prospective successors a heads up so they coulld begin to consider putting their names in the hat.
No signage allowed on bulb-outs
The Town Council passed on first reading a new ordinance that would prohibit the placement of any signage on the bulb-outs created along Main Street as part of the recent Main Street improvement project except as part of a Special Event Permit.
Although it was initially believed that signage would be allowed, when Mayor Mim Mack recently took his measuring tape out to examine the situation, he discovered that no signage could be placed in the bulb-outs that would meet the set-back requirements from the curb and the crosswalks, handicapped access clearance and also meet the sight triangle requirements guaranteeing visibility for drivers at the intersections.
Temporary signage may be allowed under the provisions of the Special Event Permit on special occasions.
In other business the Council:
• approved a resolution extending the final maturity date of the Town’s $2.173 million Water System Revenue Bond to August 15, 2013. It was set to expire on February 15, 2013;
• adopted amendments to the Growth Policy to include language consistent with the annexation of the airport. This includes recognizing it as a potential TIFD that would serve light industrial and industrial purposes;
• approved filing a revised grant application to the Federal Aviation Administration for the Airport Taxilane Project, basically a resubmission of the previous application with the addition of a new beacon and an increase in the amount of money that Montana Aeronautics would contribute.