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Disenchanted with Town of Stevensville

I am disenchanted by the council’s decisions regarding the residents of Stevensville and their best interests. It appears that the mayor and the council work for THEIR best interests as opposed to the townspeople’s that they represent. Persons who choose governing positions put themselves in the public spotlight to be criticized as well as praised for the work they have done or have NOT done. It has been shown that any and all who oppose the council or the mayor in writing (opeds) or in person will be subject to unfair practices and selected targeting by those in a position of trust.

Shortly after the city sent someone to place a meter on the rental home on Winslett, the tenant living therein objected to the amount of water the meter said she used (along with the majority of Stevensville). When the tenant made the City aware of her dissent she was told the meters worked fine and she owed what it said she owed. Although other’s meters in town were found to be defective, the tenant living on Winslett never got her meter checked, although the city says they checked it. The tenant has repeatedly restated her case to the utility office in Stevensville, still, no report has been forthcoming from the city to either the owner of property or the tenant living on Winslett. The tenant became frustrated and stopped paying her water in full and was making partial payments. In January a shut off notice was sent to the owner, but not to the tenant living in the home. We informed the tenant of the bill and the town’s intent. She went to the town and made a $250-ish payment and made payment arrangements to pay the remainder when her taxes came in (roughly two weeks from date). Her taxes were a day late, but the second shut off notice (in less than two weeks) was not late in arriving at the owner’s (again, it did NOT arrive at the tenant’s).

The owner, myself, and the tenant all went down to the Stevensville utility offices to get this settled once and for all. We brought our concerns to the billing person again and were asking questions about when the meter would be checked, Why the tenant was receiving multiple shut off notices, what mg the meters were running on, if the town had complied with FCC regulations regarding 900MHz bandwidth, Wireless conflict concerns between NorthWestern Energy, Century Link and the town’s electronic metering (mechanical meters are far more accurate and don’t use electricity to run, and do not conflict with other wireless devices), as well as health concerns that have arisen around the world that are believed to be directly related to electronic digital meters. While we were talking to the billing lady, the mayor screamed in my face that, “That (the owner’s, my, and the tenant’s concerns) was my opinion.” I might add that a week after paying the water in full, the next billing cycle started, and the tenant received yet another shutoff notice, within days of billing. Shortly after the March billing cycle, the tenant received ANOTHER shutoff notice. The bill wasn’t even 30 days in arrears yet!

At the April 25, Town Council meeting I was surprised to hear that water bills were still in arrears throughout the town, in arrears up to 120 days!  So if the town council is without prejudice, it should explain why only the tenant on Winslett must keep her bill paid under threat of it being shut off, while other residents in the community who don’t have the funds to pay their bills are allowed to be so far in arrears before receiving a shutoff notice. When I voiced my concerns I was told by the mayor that “this was an administration issue and could be taken up with the billing department.” I informed the council that I had already, the tenant had already, expressed those concerns to billing so now I was expressing them to the council. The mayor informed me to write a letter to the Town of Stevensville.

I would also like to take a moment to point out that it is the Town Council’s job to know the residents whom they make decisions for. The average mean income for Stevensville, Montana, most current numbers from 2009, show that Stevensville tops out at a whopping $35,000/year. And Ravalli County at $56,000/year, leaving locals questioning whose best interest the town council and the mayor are really working for, and at what expense. To base water bills on national averages as opposed to LOCAL averages is inconsistent with the term COMMUNITY. Communities are NOT an average and cannot be treated as such. Communities are made up of living, breathing entities and they take care of each other, regardless of the personal slights that occur. I can’t help but see a conflict between profit and people.

Forcing residents to apply for federal aid in order to receive a 17% (Apr. 25 town council meeting) discount on their water bills is not a practical way to attack this problem, either. To make matters more confusing the amount “given” by the town for their part of the charity is conflicting, both the newspaper and the notice received by the tenant said that those who applied for LIEAP would receive a $5 discount towards their water bill, if approved. Forcing people to apply for federal aid or have their water shut off is not in the best interest of Stevensville or its community members. In all truth, what is in the best interest of this community is LESS Federal Aid, and more COMMUNITY aid. Which means, the community thrives during times of national distress, as opposed to failing. As the utility report shows, the members of this community CANNOT afford the water, and the prices are subject to town council’s discretion as to who gets help and who doesn’t.

Which leads me to question community leadership roles that expect its community members to get on the federal roles, as opposed to maintaining adequate and ethical water management for its citizens without the need for federal assistance. It’s called independence, something small towns like this one are proud of.

On another note, four years ago, the neighbor at the bottom of the Higgins Treece Gulch neighborhoods started a forest fire. That three alarm fire brought trucks from Florence to Pinesdale as well as a helicopter, to extinguish the blaze. A ladder truck made camp in my garden to keep the fire from spreading. The quick response from the neighbors, and the fire department, saved every home on this mountain and no one was hurt, physically, and all homes remained intact.

Last summer, however, a piece of property adjacent to us was put up for sale. Our driveway just happens to run through the middle of the property for sale. The property owners blocked off the driveway despite objections of fire danger, as well as the three railroad car slash pile at the bottom of their property. The Forest Service was contacted due to concerns that a fire truck could not get down the switchback should another fire come through. The Forest Service told me to contact the Stevensville Fire Department and have them come check for any hazards, due to the fact that many people live on this mountain, one such individual is directly on the other side of this property and the slash pile under her home. Granted, it was August when I first started calling the Stevensville Fire Department, and I left many messages. After several weeks of calling the chief’s cell number, leaving messages and patiently waiting, a person finally answered the phone. I told the commander in charge who answered the phone about the slash pile, the Forest Service’s response to my call to them, what they wanted me to pass on to the Stevensville Fire Department, and made a date to see him or a member of his crew within a few days. It is Now April 29, 2013, and no one has come to evaluate this hazard, no one has called to reschedule. We are now approaching fire season, and there is still a very large slash pile on the empty lot, just waiting to go up in accidental flames, taking the whole mountain with it. And that is going to need a lot more than just a helicopter. (I would LOVE to know what the neighbor thinks about the response time to her neighborhood should that pile ignite…)

This leads me to believe that the council or the mayor, or both, has sway within the local fire department to pick and choose who gets to live and who gets to burn. That is as unethical as the water issue. If I was the only resident in the Treece Gulch/Higgins area, I might understand the unjust practices of the council and the fire department commander. However, there are over 80 homes up here, and almost all of them are inhabited, and their homes and lives are just as important as the rest of the community. The mayor or town council should have made this slash pile fire hazard a priority, before the airport or any other business Stevensville should be attending to. Fire happens to be an extremely hot issue round these parts, and it is disappointing to know that the Stevensville Fire Department wont be responding to the Higgins/Treece Gulch community because unethical concerns were voiced, and the elected persons’ backs are so spineless they would retaliate against persons NOT even involved.

It is with regret that I ask the Town of Stevensville to recuse the mayor and the council. That it is in the Town’s best interest to have members from the community partaking in business that is good for the whole community, not just the very few people in the over $35,000 bracket.

Your choice now, as a community, is either to allow the Mayor and the Council to blatantly destroy everything this town stands for as well as the members who make it that way, or to stand now and defend it. The door was opened for you when I voiced our dissent about the water to the paper. That dissent was expressed and the persons we elected have proven that dissent is not welcome in the town they profess to want to preserve.

I also would implore the community members who have asked me to express these feelings out loud, to now use your power and your rights to express those feelings yourselves in writing, as that was the mayor’s request at the Town Council meeting. While I appreciate all of your thanks and well wishes, I, Wilma Jean, and the tenant on Winslett have become a direct target by the powers that temporarily be. It is childish and immature to attack persons who have NOTHING to do with their personal slights. I highly encourage you to write your own letters to the town of Stevensville voicing your complaints and misuse and abuse. We managed to pack over 80 people into the water meeting. It would be really spectacular if we could get at least that many letters or voices of dissent to return our community to its residents. On a side note, it was apparent by the public hearing, that ONLY residents INSIDE the boundaries of Stevensville are allowed to voice concerns, ALL others will be dismissed, as your vote doesn’t count.

I am deeply concerned that the mayor of this town, or any town, would retaliate against persons who had no part in my letter to the paper, over their ego. What a great way to encourage persons to move here, and take root, and raise their children. The Mayor and the members sitting on the Stevensville Town Council are the type of person we warn our children about. The Mayor and the members sitting on the Stevensville Town Council have no business treating the people of this community in this manner. They aren’t even from here! They are outsiders.

At least half of you raised me. You chastised me, whooped me, taught me, held me. Every un-political correct fiber that I am, I am because of you. I wasn’t the only child you did that for. Without ALL of you, I would have no values, no dignity, no self worth. I would be ignorant of myself and the world, because no one cared. Those morals, and ethics MUST be maintained in this community, in our hearts, and with our families and friends. Because that is what sets us apart from the rest. You know what’s right in your hearts. Tyranny has no place in this valley. Free speech is still a right. And discrimination, duress, and intimidation in a person, or persons, in the position of authority have no place here.

Kim French

Stevensville

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