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City commission approves TIF grants

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POLSON — Applications for grant funding from the Tax Increment Finance district (TIF) were a major focus of last Monday’s Polson City Commission meeting, beginning with a unanimous vote to approve a grant to Mark and Dana Johnston for a remodeling project at their home on 2nd St. E. 

The grant approval had been postponed two weeks prior because the Johnstons had begun work on the project after funding was recommended by the Polson Redevelopment Agency (PRA) in May, but before it came before the commission in July for final approval – an apparent violation of the TIF grant requirements.

Dana Johnston told the commission that she and her husband had anticipated commission approval in early June, and had contractors lined up. “We were at the mercy of a leaky roof, but also feel we did our due diligence,” she said. 

Karen Dunwell, chair of the PRA, reminded the commission that the agency had recommended approval of the project in May, leaving “ample time for it to have progressed through the city commission. The Johnstons have been caught up in a calendar dilemma and should not be punished for it.”

The Flathead Lake Museum was also in line for TIF district funding to replace the roof on the aging Quonset-like structure that houses a sizeable historical collection. The commission approved $34,500 for the project – the maximum allowable under TIF regulations. Since PRA chair Dunwell is also president of the museum, and the agency currently has only three members, the matter was passed directly to the commission for action. 

Dunwell, wearing her museum hat, told the commission the museum had raised $175,000 to replace the roofing and fascia, repair the sidewalk and improve the façade on the 70-year-old structure. However, with prices “sky high” for materials and labor, those funds will just cover the roof and fascia improvements. She also noted that currently, the museum has “the curb appeal of a derelict building – the only thing missing is boarded up windows.” 

Due to extensive leakage, all artifacts and exhibits are currently covered with tarps, and the museum has been closed to visitors since the onset of the pandemic in 2020.

PRA board member Wally Congden urged the commission to help protect a building that houses “the best archival collection of documents, books and especially photographs on the history of the county that we have.” 

In voicing his support for the project, commissioner Tony Isbell noted that the project symbolizes the spirit of the TIF program by “bringing value to our downtown.”

The commission also approved $27,000 for the rehabilitation of the former automotive garage at 610 Main St., on the corner of 7th Ave., owned by Leslae Dalpiaz. The grant will help the owner paint the exterior, add entry door windows, repair the roof and remove asbestos. Post renovation, she plans to lease part of the building to an apparel business, Flathead Threads, and use the rest for office space and storage.

Commissioner Carolyn Pardini voted against both the museum grant and Dalpiaz’s project after announcing that she wouldn’t support any further grant requests until recipients were required to make a final report to the commission. 

The commission took no action on a third project, a grant request from Hu Beaver who is building two new fourplex apartments at 202 11th Ave W., after citizen watchdog Lee Manicke pointed out that the $1.15 million project was a full block beyond the TIF district boundaries. 

Manicke also opposed Dalpiaz’s project, asserting that her property is owned as a Limited Liability Corporation, which wasn’t disclosed on her application. 

Dunwell countered that grant recipients “get nothing until they turn in receipts. Where is the skullduggery in that? She’s taking personal responsibility for beautifying a building that’s a blight.”

In other business:

- The commission heard from Mike Bouchee, a partner in the new Swimming Horse Distillery, slated to be built at the corner of First St. E. and Hwy. 93 at the site of an old gas station. The project, which received TIF funding to help with demolition of an existing building, was postponed this spring when two additional buried fuel tanks were unearthed. 

Project investors have since been working with the Department of Environmental Quality to remove the tanks and contaminated soil. Bouchee anticipates that work will be completed within two months, “and at that point, we’ll be ready to proceed forward with the distillery.”

Despite the delay, Bouchee told the commission, “We actually feel really good about this. We’re committed to being a good partner with the DEQ, the City of Polson and the community.”

- The commission unanimously approved a Resolution of Intent to renew the contract of city manager Ed Meece, clearing the way for future contract negotiations.

- Commissioners approved a Resolution of Intent to annex Scenic Lane at the behest of eight property owners. The narrow, dead-end thoroughfare runs between Super One and Ace Hardware to a small “island” neighborhood under the jurisdiction of Lake County. Landowners, who have their own septic systems, have agreed to pay the cost of a new sewer line, built to city standards, that would connect to the city’s system. They also plan to expand the roadway from 10 to 12 feet wide but asked that it remain a private road. 

- Commissioners gave preliminary approval to a subdivision of a 60-acre parcel on the south side of Polson between Skyview Subdivision and Skyline Lane. The applicants have proposed to develop two lots, 1.17 and 1.97 acres in size, for single family residences, with the remainder of the property – 56.49 acres – reserved for future subdivision. 


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