By Michael Howell
The Stevensville Town Council recently decided to expand its health care coverage for employees by including dental and vision options in which the town would pay half the cost in a 50/50 cost share plan. Now, at its most recent meeting on August 14, the Council adopted a permissive levy to cover the annual incremental increase in costs over time as health care costs continue to rise, but did not fund it. According to Councilor Bill Perrin, the Council is simply putting the “mechanism” in place should future councils see the need to use it.
The levy was designed by the Montana legislature to address the steep rise in health insurance costs that were threatening to eat up the general fund budgets of every municipality and county in the state. By using a permissive levy those increases can be met without diminishing the general fund.
In making the decision to set up the levy but not fund it, the Council relied on information provided by Montana Association of Counties Director Harold Blattie who was involved in the legislative action. Blattie told the Town that the framework for administering the levy could be adopted without actually levying any funds. He said the levy could be assessed or partially assessed each year, or it could not be assessed. It could be assessed one year, not assessed the next, and then assessed again on the following year. The decision is made each year.
According to Mayor Gene Mim Mack, the increase this year in employee health care costs over the previous year was 1.6%. Besides the annual incremental increases, this included the expansion of the program to include the 50/50 vision and dental care plan. If the Town were to levy a permissive tax this year to cover that increase, the costs to a homeowner of a house with a taxable valuation of $100,000 would be $4.82, and this would fund the medical program and half the vision and dental program.
Councilor Perrin said he thought the recent increase could be handled by the Town’s general fund and that he was not in favor of assessing a levy right now.
“It’s not a problem right now. But we would be remiss in not giving future councils the option,” said Perrin. Councilor Tim Hunter agreed.
Councilor Jim Crews said that he was not in favor of enacting any taxes.
The permissive levy was passed without any funding on a 2 to 1 vote. Councilor Crews voted against the levy and Councilor Robin Holcomb was absent.
Sidewalk Replacement Fund gets boost
In order to use up 3.4 mills left unlevied from 2001-2002, the Town Council has decided to adopt a 1.7 mill levy this year and place most of the money in the town’s Sidewalk Replacement Fund and possibly adopt another 1.7 mill levy next year for the same purpose. It is estimated that the full 3.4 mills would add about $8700 to the Sidewalk Replacement Fund.
“I hate taxes,” said Councilor Crews, “but if this will improve the town and increase property values and make things safer, I’m for it.” He also insisted, however, that if the tax was collected then the money needed to be put to work.
“You need a plan and you need to start on it,” he said.
Councilor Bill Perrin said that the Town had a plan and the process to implement it was in place.
The vote to approve the 1.7 mills passed unanimously (with Holcomb absent).
Economic Development Fund established
The Town currently holds about $52,534 in a fund that was originally established as part of Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds to work as a revolving loan program. That program was discontinued a number of years ago. Since that time the remaining funds were used for many and varied projects. Some was used as matching money for water and sewer grants, on a fire station building, on installation of 3-phase electricity at the airport, and architectural engineering for the Pantry Partners building, among other things.
The Council approved budgeting $4,000 of the CDBG money to fund the Grants to Others program, $4,770 for a recycling program, and placing the remaining $43,765 in an economic development fund.
Mayor Mim Mack said, “From the administration side it is a great idea.” He said it would send a strong message to the business community that the town values economic development and will work to increase the tax base by spending money to do that.
The establishment of the Economic Development Fund was approved on a 3 to 0 vote.
Rule against J-turns being re-figured
Mayor Gene Mim Mack recommended to the Council that the town’s ordinance prohibiting U-turns and J-turns be re-written. Not only are J-turns not mentioned in state law, there is no definition of J-turns in the town’s legal code and no tickets for J-turns are being written. He said the real issue is the crossing of two double yellow lines, which is a violation of state law, and that is how the violation is really written up.
The revised ordinance prohibits crossing a double yellow line to park on the street but does allow a person to “turn a vehicle left across a lane marked with two yellow lines into a public or private parking lot, private road, private driveway or roadway if the turn can be made safely and if the person does not hinder the flow of oncoming traffic.”
While U-turns are generally permissible in town if the movement may be made safely and without interfering with other traffic, they are strictly prohibited at intersections on Main Street from the north town limits to the south town limits.