By Michael Howell
The Town of Stevensville first began considering helping out a few of the non-profit organizations in the community a few years back when Chris Weatherly came to the Town Council on behalf of the Stevensville Museum seeking some relief from the water bill that the organization pays at its building on Main Street. Water rates had gone up significantly and the Museum only occupied the building during the summer months. A few more non-profits soon expressed an interest as well once the discussion came up. The Council was sympathetic and recognized how the public service the organizations were providing was a clear benefit to the Town and its residents. But when the idea of a reduced water rate for non-profits was passed along for legal review to the town’s attorney, that’s where it ended.
The law requires that all utility customers be treated equally. No special rate can be given to any individual or group
According to Mayor Gene Mim Mack, that’s when the suggestion came up to establish a Grants to Others fund that would give out small grants (the fund currently holds $2,500), to non-profits performing essential public services. The non-profits must submit an application describing their services and the nature and size of the population they serve and how they plan to spend the money. It does not have to be spent on utilities, but could be for any other justified cost in providing their services. The organization must also make a final report.
The Council considered applications from six different organizations and gave out $2,000 total to the six applicants. Four of the applicants were each awarded a $400 grant, including the Stevensville Museum, Stevensville Senior Center, Stevensville Playhouse, and Genesis House. The Clothes Closet and Pantry Partners plan to use the money to off-set their utility expenses, but since they share a building they each received a $200 grant.
In other business, the Town Council approved a contract with Stevensville Main Street Association for $5,500. The contract will run from January 1 to December 31 and contains two pages of obligations.
According to the contract the Stevensville Main Street Association (SMSA) will promote economic activities to increase jobs and bolster the tax base. It will do this by providing consultation and assistance services to new businesses seeking to locate in Stevensville and assist in recruitment of new businesses.
SMSA agrees to promote the town through activities that will bring visitors to town such as the Western Heritage Days, Christmas Gift Fair, Scarecrow Festival, downtown activities associated with Creamery Picnic, First Friday activities and other events that will bring people into the downtown.
It agrees to act as an information center for telephone and walk-in inquiries from local businesses and area visitors and maintain accurate and current databases useful to local businesses, as well as providing referral services.
SMSA also agrees to assist the Town’s Planning and Zoning Committee and to provide meeting space for the Town and community as requested and available.
The Association will also administer the NorthWestern Energy grant for upgrades to Lewis and Clark Park and Creamery Park.
The contract requires SMSA to maintain a list of all known businesses within the Town including address, ownership and number of employees, as well as a list of known vacant commercial buildings by address and square footage.
The contract also calls for reports “as necessary, at least quarterly,” detailing its activities and accomplishments. Finally, it requires the SMSA to conduct a Local Outdoor Recreation Survey to be utilized by the Town for a grant application to the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks.
The contract was approved on a 3 to 1 vote with Councilor Robin Holcomb dissenting. Holcomb said simply, “I have nothing against anyone personally, but I don’t think it’s worth $5,500 in taxpayer’s money.”
The Council also approved a raise in the Mayor’s compensation. The Mayor was getting a $400 per month honorarium for his services in the office but Town Councilor Bill Perrin said that pay was woefully inadequate given the huge water and sewer projects the Town had taken on and which the Mayor administers. Perrin said that the original pay was set on the idea of performing normal duties but the two multi-million dollar projects demanded a significant amount of extra time and effort. He said it added another 60 hours of work per month to the Mayor’s duties. He suggested paying another $1,200 per month. The additional pay would be limited to a year, so that it could be discontinued when the projects are completed.
Councilor Robin Holcomb stated that it was a conflict of interest for the Mayor since he would be getting the money.
Mayor Mim Mack noted that he did not get a vote on the issue unless there was a tie.
Holcomb asked what he would do if there was a tie and the Mayor said he would not vote and the motion would fail.
“We all went into this job knowing what we were going to be paid,” said Holcomb. She said she looked at compensation for mayors across the state and that the current pay was close to what all the others are getting with some getting less and a few getting more. She said she didn’t see the need to raise it.
Councilor Desera Towle stated that the work required to administer the two huge infrastructure projects was unique and it was over and above the normal requirements of Mayor.
The raise in pay was approved on a 3 to 1 vote with Holcomb dissenting.
The Town Council approved a change order in the sewer project that reduced the contract price by $5,175.44. The Council approved another change order that increased the contract price of the water project by $5,316.10.
The Council approved a PERS reimbursement of $1,468.52 to Phil Bratton who retired in 1998. This is less than the $1,870.95 originally requested because it was found that the Town had a letter on file stating that no PERS reimbursements would be made for work before January 1, 1989.
The Council also did some “housekeeping” and closed out an unassigned account of $52,534 that was used over the years for a wide assortment of things and placed $51,000 in the Capital Improvements Fund and $1,534 into the Grants to Others fund.