It seems a shame that the impressive record of accomplishments of the current Stevensville Town Council under the leadership of Mayor Gene Mim Mack is being called into question by a few disgruntled folks with loud voices.
The history of the town government’s problems prior to this council have been well-documented in the Bitterroot Star. This mayor was appointed because the mayor before him resigned under mounting evidence that he was incapable of fulfilling his duties as the town’s chief executive and the council at that time was putting intense pressure on him. The finances were in total disarray because the town had hired a clerk/treasurer that did not have the skills or training necessary for the job. Negotiations had broken down with a developer trying to create a new subdivision, two major infrastructure projects – for sewer and water – were in progress, and the public was concerned about inadequate police protection.
When Mayor Mim Mack took over, he inherited these problems. He and the council – with two newly-elected members – tackled the problems head on and the progress that has been made is remarkable.
A qualified treasurer was hired as well as a clerk/secretary, thereby freeing up the utility clerk to devote her efforts to the full-time job of utility billing.
The budget was reorganized to better reflect the total financial picture of the town. The recently approved budget for 2013-14 allows for covering all necessary expenditures as well as maintaining healthy reserves.
The council has identified capital improvement needs for the next five years and developed a capital improvement plan, which includes such items as a street sweeper, additional police vehicles and fire engines, fire hydrant replacement, swimming pool replacement, adding sidewalks and much more. The plan identifies these needs and also identifies how the projects will be funded.
The council has made every effort – short of lowering rates which is not possible due to the bond repayment requirements – to minimize the impact of the water and sewer rate increases that were approved by the previous council to finance the current infrastructure improvement projects.
The council added six reserve deputies to the police force and purchased a much-needed police vehicle.
The fire department finally received a long overdue payment to its retirement fund, money that had been previously withheld or underpaid.
Tremendous effort has been spent on providing the detailed and thorough financial information required by the independent auditors who have said they will complete their work by the end of this year.
The Town’s Municipal Code has been thoroughly reviewed and updated to bring it into compliance with state law and remove or replace outdated ordinances, something that hadn’t been done in over 30 years.
A tax increment finance district was created in order to provide and fund the necessary infrastructure for businesses like Selway Corporation that bring good-paying jobs – and will locate someplace else if they don’t have the infrastructure – and the Stevensville Airport has been annexed into the town, thereby enlarging the tax base as taxes from industry at the airport will now come directly to the town rather than the county. A targeted economic development district is being created at the airport so that the businesses located there have a means to get the needed infrastructure and services to grow their businesses and become more successful.
The Town has recently received two letters from Montana Governor Steve Bullock. One praises the mayor for correcting inequities in the pay scale of the town’s employees. The other congratulates the Town for its partnership with the Stevensville Main Street Association, one of only two nationally accredited programs in the state. The Town has been a major contributor to the Main Street program for at least 10 of the last 12 years, but this council and mayor developed a more detailed, outcome-based contract for services with the Main Street organization so they – and the taxpayers – would have a detailed record of the work performed on behalf of the Town.
After the tragic school shooting in Connecticut, the mayor and police chief contacted Stevensville School to see if they could do anything to improve security, and the resulting COPS grant they successfully applied for will add a School Resource Officer for at least the next four years.
We don’t live within the town limits, so we can’t vote. But we do own commercial property on Main Street and we pay property taxes which go into the town coffers to fund essential services. We have worked out of our downtown office for 28 years. We have attended many, many council meetings. We have covered these meetings through six mayors. Our memories are not that short that we’ve forgotten that just two years ago, the atmosphere at council meetings was so divisive that very little work was getting done. A mayor, a clerk/treasurer, and two council persons resigned amid accusations of harassment, intimidation and bullying.
That may have made for interesting reading in the newspaper, but don’t we expect better from our town leadership? The council and mayor have a responsibility to work together in the best interests of the citizens of Stevensville. An effective mayor understands how local government works, fulfills his or her supervisory duties in a fair and professional manner, builds consensus among council members, and is able to balance the interests of individuals with what is in the best interest of the citizenry as a whole.
We still report on the council meetings as we’ve always done. You can count on the Star to tell you the whole story. And the whole story is that this council and mayor have accomplished a lot. The atmosphere at the meetings is civil, the discussion is lively, public comment is encouraged. This is one of the most transparent municipal administrations that we have seen in a quarter of a century. If you don’t know what’s going on at this Town Hall, you must have failed to ask.
The accomplishments we have listed can be verified by anyone. It is a far cry from the list of quarrels, accusations, fiascos, resignations and downright absurd behavior that rightly characterizes some of our most recent administrations, which can also be verified.
No matter who is at the helm, the institution of town government will always be here. But the voters of Stevensville must ask themselves, do we like what we have now?
We say now is not the time to turn back.