By Michael Howell
The Stevensville Town Council placed creation of a local government study commission on the ballot for the June 3 primary elections. A draft proposal to create a three-member study commission funded up to $15,000 was amended twice before being approved. The final motion was to place a five-member study commission on the ballot with approved funding of up to $20,000. If the ballot measure is approved the five study commission members would be selected in the November 4, 2014 election.
Mayor Gene Mim Mack pointed out that although state law allows the Council to place creation of a study commission on the ballot and fund it to a maximum amount of dollars or a mill levy, another code appears to allow the study commission to set its own scope of work and determine its own budget.
There is no exact time frame for a study commission to do its work, nor is there any definite scope of work. Mim Mack said a study commission could convene and decide within a few months that no changes are necessary and make no recommendations. Or it could create a study plan that would take years to implement and end up making several significant changes in the form of government.
Mim Mack noted that there were records of two previous study commissions being approved over the last twenty years, but the only change ever recommended and adopted was to have non-partisan municipal elections.
During discussion about funding a study commission it was noted that past records from the Black Mountain software indicated that the last study commission spent over $42,000. That total was questioned and previous town clerk Nancy Lowell, who served as clerk at the time, expressed disbelief in the cost. It was noted that some payroll costs were included. Lowell suggested that the costs to the Town for use of Town employees and services by the study commission may have been included.
The Council also approved a five-year Capital Improvement Plan for the Stevensville Airport. The bulk of the planned improvements take place within the next two years. Earth work improvements related to both runway and taxiway extensions are planned for 2014 and a major runway reconstruction project in 2016. No major work is planned for the subsequent years, 2017-2019.
According to Councilor Ron Klaphake, who serves on the Airport Board, the total cost of the entire project is about $455,000. He said that combined with grants from Montana Aeronautics the Town’s liability would be close to $170,000. Using cash on hand and other funding sources, he said the project may require taking out a loan from Montana Aeronautics for $50,000. The plan calls for the project to be paid for out of airport funds. Klaphake said that the new TIFF District established at the airport is expected to produce sufficient funds to complete the project and pay off the loan.
Mayor Mim Mack told the council that due to weather conditions the sewer project, which was shut down due to the cold weather and scheduled to start up on February 17, will be delayed to March 3. Delays were also related to a damaged gas line that NorthWestern Energy will have to repair before boring under the Eastside Highway can continue.
The American Legion and American Legion Auxiliary donated a total of $400 to help with the cemetery vandalism situation. $200 is to be used to increase the reward being offered for arrest of the vandals and $200 is for repairs. If the reward is not claimed the reward portion of the donation would also go to repairs.
The Stevensville Community Foundation offered to donate a bench to be placed alongside the Town’s swimming pool facility for children to use while waiting to be picked up by parents. The bench installation would also involve placement of plaques in recognition of community service by former foundation member John Susen.
The council discussed creating a policy for dealing with uncashed checks issued by the Town. Town Treasurer Stephanie Mapelli said that currently it would involve about six checks totaling less than $500. It was noted that most banks will not cash a check older than six months from the date of issue. It was agreed that a formal resolution would be drawn up for consideration to write off uncashed checks after six months.
Leslie Tadvick spoke during the public comment period and objected to the characterization by councilor Bill Perrin of a survey recently submitted to the town as being “mean spirited.” She said that she was born and raised here and was disappointed in the direction the town was taking and so were the people who responded anonymously to the survey. She said the people felt intimidated and that they had no voice in the town’s affairs.
Tadvick said that previous town fathers and councils were frugal with the town’s money but the current council was giving raises, giving money to the Main Street Association and other non-profits while they raise the water rates beyond what some people can afford.
“Tax dollars should not be given to non-profits,” said Tadvick. She said that she did not like the way the town was changing.