By Michael Howell
Although the Stevensville Town Council made half a dozen unanimous decisions at its August 28 meeting, the council was split over three issues. As a result, Mayor Gene Mim Mack cast the deciding vote on a few significant items including the make-up of the Police Commission, employee salaries, and adoption of the FY 2014-2015 Budget.
The first split in the council occurred over the Mayor’s recommendations for appointment to the Stevensville Police Commission. He recommended Paul Courteau, Paul Ludington, and Jeff Motley.
Councilor Jim Crews said that he did not know two of the candidates and would like to have been able to consider more options. He suggested that someone with experience with the responsibilities of law enforcement would be a good choice. He suggested that the positions be advertised for broader public participation. Councilor Robin Holcomb agreed.
Mayor Mim Mack defended his recommendations and said that the make-up of the committee was supposed to be from the general citizenry and he believed the people recommended had the abilities and background needed to fill the quasi-judicial functions of the committee.
Councilors Holcomb and Crews voted against consenting to the recommendations. Councilors Bill Perrin and Tim Hunter approved the appointments. The Mayor broke the tie, voting in favor of the appointments.
The next issue to fracture the council down the middle was the resolution determining the salaries and compensation for all elected and appointed officers and all employees of the town for the coming fiscal year. All employees got a cost of living raise of 1.5%. Every employee also got a merit raise based on individual performance. No employee’s merit raise exceeded 2%. In discussion it was stated that Stevensville sits about mid-range in towns around the state in terms of its pay scale, except perhaps the entry level pay for a police officer, which may be on the low side, according to the Mayor.
Councilor Jim Crews asked if the Mayor’s salary of $1,200 a month was included in the salaries being adopted. The Mayor said it was. Crews expressed some objection to that and suggested that it should not be set until a review committee was established and submitted a report. A discussion of how that would work was held earlier in the meeting.
Councilor Bill Perrin was explicit, however, when he brought it up for discussion that it was purely for discussion and no decision was being made. How the committee would be made up was discussed and a preliminary timeline for a report by next April.
Citizen Kim French questioned why the Mayor was getting a salary of $1,200 and an honorarium of $400 per month. She complained that government employees are getting paid too much.
“You guys are just doing what you want to do no matter what we say,” said French.
Councilors Bill Perrin and Tim Hunter voted to adopt the salaries and honorariums as amended. The honorariums had earlier been amended to raise the honorariums for volunteers to $175 per month and reduce the honorariums for the Councilors from $200 to $175 per month.
Councilors Holcomb and Crews voted against the motion. Mayor Mim Mack broke the tie in favor of adopting the salaries.
Prior to approving the entire budget, including the salaries that had just been set, the Council considered a resolution to authorize a permissive medical levy to fund group health insurance contributions from the town but with zero funding for FY 2014-2015.
Councilor Crews moved to table the agenda item until the next budget cycle, but that motion died due to lack of a second.
Councilor Holcomb then moved to remove the permissive levy from the budget, saying, “I want it out of the budget, period.” Crews seconded the motion.
The Mayor and Councilor Hunter both said the levy was a tool to protect the General Fund.
A member of the audience said it was a way to make employees happy by providing them benefits.
Councilor Perrin said that the comments made at the public hearing show that it is about protecting the general fund. He said this council is choosing not to use it, but that it is a tool that future councils could use if needed.
“It seems incumbent on us as a council to put this in place for future councils,” said Perrin. He said the real concern was about runaway health costs that the town has no control over.
One audience member said that she was on a fixed income and can’t afford medical and dental insurance.
“You can’t get blood out of a turnip,” she said.
Councilors Holcomb and Crews voted in favor of removing the permissive levy from the budget. Councilors Perrin and Hunter voted against it.
Mayor Mim Mack broke the tie, voting against it, and the motion to remove it from the budget failed.
The Mayor asked for a motion to act on the resolution to adopt the permissive levy but one was not forthcoming. More heated discussion of the levy followed with only negative comment from the members of the public. Former Councilor Clayton Floyd said from the audience that the council should just move on and deal with it when they get to the budget.
The council did move on without taking any action on the agenda item.
When it came time to adopt the full budget there appeared to be consensus that approving the budget meant approving the permissive levy, but there was no more discussion about the differences of opinion and in a quick vote the council split down the middle again. Councilors Perrin and Hunter approved adoption of the budget and Councilors Holcomb and Crews voted against it. Mayor Mim Mack broke the tie, voting to adopt the budget.
The total budget for the Town, including the water and sewer funds, was up from last year. Revenues increased from $5,472,804 in FY 2013-2014 to $6,516,143 for FY 2014-2015, an increase of $1,043,719. Expenses went up as well but not as much. Expenses for FY 2013-2014 were $5,974,018 and climbed to $6,928,719, an increase of $954,701.
The general fund alone also showed an increase in revenues and expenses. The revenues went from $559,166 in FY 2013-2014 to $581,057 in this year’s budget, an increase of $21,891. Expenses went from $556,165 in FY 2013-2014 to $563,048, an increase of $6,883.
On Monday, Mayor Mim Mack told the Bitterroot Star that in fact the permissive levy was never included as part of the budget. He said until the council approves a levy (by resolution) there is nothing to put in the budget. It would be added to the budget once approved and placed on the tax notices. He said the matter of the permissive levy was not dealt with following the two failed motions and would be carried over to the next meeting under old business.
The Council did approve several agenda items unanimously, including the second reading of the amended traffic and vehicle codes which prohibits U-turns on Main Street and prohibits crossing the double yellow line to pull into an on-street parking place. Crossing the double yellow line is permissible when turning into off street parking or some other opening. The new ordinance will go into effect 30 days from Thursday’s approval.
The council unanimously approved a resolution to levy 1.7 mills carried forward from Fiscal Year 2000-2001 to be placed in a Sidewalk Repair and Replacement Fund.
The council unanimously approved the appointment of Sherri Harris to the Park Board and Nathan Bean to the Tax Increment Financing Industrial District Board.
The council unanimously approved the first reading of an ordinance adopting the Uniform Code for the Abatement of Dangerous Buildings into the municipal code for the town. Mayor Mim Mack said the matter came to the town’s attention with a recent lawsuit filed in District Court by the owner of the Stevensville Hardware Store against the owners of the Stevensville Playhouse. He said the case involved allegations of a “dangerous building” but the Town had no such definition in its code.
The Mayor said the Building Inspector looked into it and found that a Uniform Code did exist that was specifically designed to give the building official the authority to inspect and sometimes condemn in the most extreme ways a building that is considered to be a public safety hazard. The Mayor said the Building Inspector recommended adoption, especially for cases of disaster when officials have to go in and look at a lot of buildings at the same time.
Councilor Perrin said that after a fire would be another case when it would help to be able to get things done quickly for safety reasons.
The Council unanimously approved making payments on the Water Bond of $7,584 per month for 39 years beginning September 14, 2014.
“This is the final act of a long process over many years,” said Councilor Perrin. He noted that it changes nothing in the base rates because the bond payments had already been figured in. No one’s water bill will change.
Following the regular review the Town’s Fiscal Policy was amended to call it a “modified” zero based budgeting process.
“It says zero based budgeting but we don’t do that,” said Treasurer Stephanie Mapelli. She said department heads are asked to look at their budgets and take out what is not critical.