By Robin Jordan
Butte-Silver Bow’s council of commissioners passed a new ordinance 6-3 last week that creates a single road maintenance district for the city-county and changes the way road maintenance fees are assessed.
The ordinance eliminates the four old street-maintenance districts, which only encompassed some of the roads Butte-Silver Bow maintains. In the old maintenance districts, fees were assessed based on the linear footage of the property adjacent to the street or road.
Under the new ordinance, each parcel in the single maintenance district will be assessed a flat fee. As outlined in the ordinance, each August, the public works department must provide the council of commissioners with an estimate of the cost of street maintenance for the fiscal year. The council then has to pass a resolution “specifying the equal assessment option and levying and assessing with an amount equal to not less than 75 percent of the entire cost of the street maintenance work.”
The fee for this year has not yet been set and there will be at least one public hearing before commissioners pass a resolution.
Voting on the ordinance was nearly postponed at the meeting Wednesday, Aug. 1 when Chief Executive Dave Palmer said there were four late written objections from residents that commissioners might not have seen. He suggested sending the ordinance back to the judiciary committee for more discussion.
However, Finance and Budget Director Danette Gleason told the council that the budget schedule was tight, and special meetings might need to be scheduled if they did not vote on the ordinance that night. She said her department needs adequate time for testing before the individual tax bills can be prepared to send out for printing. Then, the bills have to be mailed in time so that property owners receive them by November 1.
Commissioner John Morgan also noted that two of the four citizen letters were from one individual who sent his comments in emails to all commissioners. Commissioners agreed to take a brief recess to read the other comments before resuming discussion.
Several commissioners who support the ordinance said that the council has been discussing how to increase funding for road maintenance for years and has been considering creation of a single maintenance district for about 18 months. They acknowledged that while the new system may not be a cure-all for Butte’s road woes, it will make a difference in the ever-growing backlog of maintenance work.
Not all commissioners agreed. Commissioner Cindi Shaw said many of her constituents don’t agree that the flat per-parcel method of assessment is fair to all taxpayers. She said she thinks that the county should wait to change the road maintenance method until a new public works director, who may have other ideas, is hired.
Morgan said even if a new public works director is hired, road maintenance in the county is still underfunded.
Commissioners Morgan, Jim Fisher, Dan Foley, Dan Olsen, Dan Callahan and Brendan McDonough voted to pass the ordinance. Commissioners Shaw, Shawn Fredrickson and Bill Andersen voted against it. Commissioners Bud Walker and John Sorich were absent. Commissioner Sheryl Ralph has resigned from the council to take a job in Arizona and her replacement has not yet been chosen.