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Commission OKs low-income housing grant

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POLSON — The Polson City Commission voted to write a letter of support for and send a representative to Helena to speak on behalf of Polson Landing, a low-income housing development. 

Alex Burkhalter, who approached the commission about the building project, will submit his project to the Montana Board of Housing by Oct. 5. The project would be funded by tax credit monies and is very competitive. 

Burkhalter brought information from a market study indicating that the vacancy rate for low income housing in Polson was one percent. 

New Polson planner Kyle Roberts said he had called around and found that all the low-income housing is rented and there is a waiting list.

Proposals from Burkhalter for a “soft” loan for the impact fees and no property taxes on the development were not part of the agreement.

“My concern was the need,” Commissioner Jill Southerland said. “I’ve been concerned about where we are as a city. Forgoing taxes and impact fees — Polson just couldn’t do that.”

In other business, Polson Fire Chief Clint Cottle reported on the transition of splitting the Polson Fire Department and the Polson Rural Fire District. 

The goal of both the City and the Rural is to make sure service is not disrupted to the public, Cottle said. 

The two departments are working on a county-wide memorandum of understanding. 

“In a nutshell,” Cottle said, “that means if you need assistance, ask.”

Cottle has been working with Rural board member and firefighter Drew Hoel on sorting out equipment. 

Steve Stanley, office of emergency management director, has issued new pager tones to alert firefighters to a fire and call them to the firehouse. Leadership is working on a training schedule to accommodate firefighters who want to serve both the City and the Rural departments.  

“Morale is greatly improving,” Cottle said. “I can tell you when I took this position, the firehall was a wasteland, a desert, unless there was a call-out or a meeting.”

Now volunteers are stopping by and seeing where they can help out, according to Cottle. 

Polson Rural Fire District board members R. Jack Clapp, Jack Konitz and Fred Nelson were on the agenda. The agenda item was titled: how we might best serve the community with regard to the Polson Rural Fire District and the City of Polson we might best serve the community. 

Clapp spoke about studies done to evaluate the fire department.One was the Emergency Services Consulting International study, 18 months ago, and the other done by Chief Curt Belts, a Missoula area fireman/administrator with 30-years experience, in the spring. 

Among other recommendations, both studies indicated the organizations should proceed as one in order to provide the best service to the public, Clapp said. 

With the announcement that Rural Fire Chief John Fairchild’s last day will be Sept. 30, Clapp said the Rural would advertise for a new chief. 

“We see this as an opportunity, a time to get together with the City,” he said. 

The City can either retain Chief Cottle or join the Rural in looking for a new chief. 

The Rural will appoint an interim chief. 

Clapp said the Rural had put a proposal together “wherein one district might be formed.” It’s an opportunity to find a way to best serve the community, he said. 

During comments, Commissioner Ken Siler noted that both he and Clapp were members of the committee who are supposed to work through the fire department issues.

“One of the first things we found was that the interlocal (agreement) had expired,” Siler said, 

asking if Clapp had taken that information to the Rural Fire District Board. 

Respectfully disagreeing, Clapp said the committee determined to leave the interlocal in place and it continued in place through June 30. Clapp added that the City submitted a bill to the Rural for $15,000 as the Rural’s share for training, equipment and upkeep. 

Siler said the City attorney said the interlocal had expired. 

“If it expired on June 14,” Clapp said, “on behalf of the Rural, we would like our money back.” 

Mayor Knutson said several groups have spent a significant amount of time trying to find a way to make the current system work. She said she was sensing from Chief Cottle that the volunteers “were whistling while they work. What I’m finding is we are in a very healthy place.” 

Clapp said the Rural would leave the commissioners with the knowledge that any time they wanted to explore one organization, the Rural was leaving the door open.

“In the interim both departments will go forward,” Clapp said.  

In other business, city commissioners welcomed four Boy Scouts working on a merit badge for citizenship. Ethan McCauley, Brogan Ness, Michael Smith and Trey Wyman attended the commission meeting with Doug Wold to watch the workings of city government. 

One thing the boys watched was a discussion by commissioners on the Polson Development Code. Polson City Manager Mark Shrives said he met with Lake County Commissioners last week. With a new civil attorney in Lake County, the county would like him to look over the development code and will continue with the old development code. 

Shrives suggested the City move forward with the new development code, and the city/county planning board be continued. At some time in the future, when county leadership has vetted the code, the two entities can talk about merging the development code.

“I think you have the support to continue,” Mayor Heather Knutson said. 

The commission awarded the contract for the Polson Airport pavement maintenance program to Road Products, Inc., Spokane, Washington. The project will be funded by a Federal Aeronautical Administration grant and matching funds.

The next city commission meeting will be held on Oct. 5 at 7 p.m. 

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