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City commission opens comment period on water, sewer

POLSON — On July 28 Polson City Commissioners passed a new resolution of intent to restructure and change rates for users of the City of Polson municipal water and sewer systems. 

The resolution removed section 24, regarding charging snowbirds water and sewer fees, which was a hotly argued point.  

Commissioners listened to the public on another issue, which was lowering the amount of water for the minimum charge to 2,000 gallons of water instead of 5,000 gallons. “Bringing the minimum rate back to 5,000 gallons — some people really need that. I happen to be one of those people,” Commissioner John Campbell said.

The new resolution is necessary because it was not tabled at the July 14 meeting. That meant legally the resolution was dead, resulting in a new comment period. 

“We’re looking at a phased approach to the sewer rate — half beginning Nov. 1 and the other half Nov. 1, 2015,” Polson Mayor Heather Knutson said. 

There are also other options, including one-third of the increase this year, then another third next year and the final third in 2016, although that would jump debt service more than a million dollars.

This set of city commissioners and mayor inherited the project, and Knutson said the decision had already been made to go in a mechanical direction. She also said the City would continue to research grant opportunities as well as reach out to the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribal Government, State of Montana officials and Environmental Protection Agency for advice and information. The commission will consider additional impact fees, resort taxes and other ways to share the cost.   

According to Shrives, Polson City Attorney Rich Gebhardt recommended removal of the snowbird fees since it’s a separate issue.

Three or four people spoke at the meeting including local businessman Rolf Harmsen. 

Harmsen asked the commissioners if they had done their due diligence and explored all possibilities, for instance contacting the CSKT.

“Rather than giving yourselves 30 days, why don’t you give yourselves 90 days and explore all the possibilities?” Harmsen asked.

Resident Peter Daniels said he thinks many elderly people will bypass medicine and food so they won’t have to ask for help paying their water and sewer bill.

“For a lot of people, this will be a real burden … ,” Daniels said.

Commenting that it’s good that the commissioners are slowing down to explore other systems, resident Murat Kalinyaprak said, “… It’s a capacity problem. The river and lake are not growing; the City is growing. There is 10 times more sewage.”

Greg Hertz, R-HD 11 also spoke. He asked commissioners what would happen if in 15 years the EPA says no more dumping.   

With its passage, the resolution starts a 30-day comment period on the water and sewer rates, which will run until Sept. 3, when another public hearing will be held. The hearing will begin at 5:30 p.m. in Polson City Commission Chambers and will be followed by a regularly scheduled city commission meeting at 7 p.m. 

“Doing nothing is not an option,” Mayor Knutson said. ”We’ll continue to research and make sure this is the best choice.”

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