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Commission approves resolution to recover golf course expenses

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POLSON — A resolution allowing the city to charge the Golf Fund for indirect costs related to operating Polson Bay Golf Course elicited the most comment during the Polson City Commission’s regular meeting on Nov. 15. 

City Manager Ed Meece prefaced the discussion by explaining that the issue arose during the annual budgeting process. He said it became clear that the current administrative cost allocation, which was capped at $30,000 when bonds were issued in 2017 to finance equipment, irrigation and restaurant improvements, isn’t keeping pace with the city’s actual administrative expenses for the golf course. 

A look at the three-year average revealed that the city spends more than $71,000 a year for indirect costs related to the golf course; that’s $41,000 more than it bills the Golf Fund. That additional money comes out of the general fund, meaning it’s subsidized by taxpayers. 

Meece consulted Valley Bank, which issued the bonds, and the city’s bond counsel before asking the commission’s permission to remove the $30,000 cap so that indirect costs could accurately be assessed to the golf fund. 

The golf course has generated revenues in excess of $1 million per year for the past three years, and posted its best year ever in 2021.

“I’m confident the Golf Fund can support this administrative increase,” Meece told commissioners. “It’s the cost of doing business.”

Some commissioners had heard from constituents about the issue, including members of the advisory Golf Board, who were briefed by Meece Nov. 10 during their final meeting of the year. David Cottington, chairman of the Golf Board, objected to the sudden increase and said the board overall views the golf course as a different kind of enterprise than water and sewer or parks.

“We generate our own money, we have an economic impact to the city and an impact on property values around the golf course,” he said. “We’re not looking for a discount – just maybe a different formula.”

Meece said the formula used by the city to allocate administrative costs is based on sound accounting principles. He added that the $30,000 cap established in 2017 “is not based on reality.” 

The golf course “is a luxury service,” he said. “I have a problem with taking general fund and subsidizing a luxury service.”

Ultimately four of the five commission members voted to approve the resolution. 

The commission also heard a draft resolution that would classify JB Drive as a public street and part of the city’s transportation system, ending decades-long controversy over the city’s responsibility for the thoroughfare. The street was annexed in 1996 with “non-standard road infrastructure,” meaning property owners were responsible for its maintenance until it became a paved surface. 

Over the years, property owners and the city have debated who was responsible for what level of maintenance, repair and snow removal, in discussions that typically ended in a stalemate. 

Meece, along with commissioners Carolyn Pardini and Brodie Moll, have been meeting with landowners over the past year. Their efforts culminated in the agreement to classify JB Drive as a city street and establish policy for its upkeep. Accompanying the draft resolution was a non-binding petition in its favor, signed by 18 property owners.

Both commissioners Moll and Pardini praised Meece for his leadership in resolving the longstanding conundrum. 

In other business: 

• The commission supported a contract between the city and the Department of Health and Human Services that will help low-income residents pay their water bills. The Low Income Water Assistance Program is in effect Oct. 1, 2021 through Sept. 30, 2023. More information is available at City Hall or online at

• The commission rejected a proposed ordinance to standardize procedures for filling a vacancy on the commission. The language, authored by city attorney Skylar Bagley, called for a “secret ballot” cast by each member with the mayor voting only to break a tie. 

A few commissioners objected to a secret ballot. “The public should know who I voted for,” said Pardini. Mayor Paul Briney worried that if only three of the six commissioners were present, a vacancy could be filled with just two votes if the mayor was only allowed to break ties. 

“The city charter and Montana code are silent on the exact procedure for filling a vacancy,” Meece said. “That’s what we’re trying to get to with this ordinance.”

The ordinance was voted down, with the understanding that the measure would be rewritten and returned to the commission for its consideration.

• Commissioners officially approved emergency construction of a connecting line between well no. 8 and the existing system. Construction of the line began during last summer’s drought, which led the city to declare a water emergency and limit water usage. While the state gave emergency clearance for the project, the commission’s approval was required to allow the city to exceed the $80,000 cap imposed on projects that aren’t formally released for bid. 

Meece told commissioners that the current project cost is around $90,000 and said the well would be hooked up next spring. 

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