Polson City Commission considers spending plans for federal funds
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POLSON — In a somewhat muddled voting process, the Polson City Commission chose Laura Dever to represent Ward 2 for the remainder of a four-year term vacated in June by interim commissioner Patricia Corrigan-Ekness.
Dever received four votes and candidates David Coffman and Tim Delaney each received one. Commissioners, who continue to conduct meetings via Zoom, were instructed to cast votes via email ballots. When those ballots either failed to materialize or weren’t responsive, City Manager Ed Meese instructed them to email their choices directly to him, which he then tabulated and presented to Mayor Paul Briney. After the results were read and Dever was formally appointed, commissioner Carolyn Pardini expressed her frustration with the process.
“I’ve been involved in appointing people at least four times, on both sides of the equation – applying to serve and appointing,” she said. “Every single time, it’s been done differently.”
She encouraged Meece to develop a consistent process that adheres to city code “so people know what they’re getting into.”
Mayor Briney pointed out that the ballot system was standard procedure but that meeting via Zoom complicates the process.
Dever and her husband recently moved to Polson, “for the friendly atmosphere, quiet neighborhoods, downtown business climate, recreational opportunities and incredible natural beauty,” she wrote in her application letter. She cites a diverse career in health and fitness, sales and marketing, and community relations, ranging from owning a small business to working for a national corporation, as a plus. Dever also believes her extensive work as a community volunteer “has given me the experience to work hard across populations and get results.”
Coffman, who retired from a lengthy career in law enforcement, faces off with Dever again in the November election for the four-year term that begins Jan. 1.
Meece also brought the commission up to date on the city’s strategy for deploying the significant amount of federal money coming into its coffers courtesy of the American Rescue Plan Act. Funds, which are dispersed directly by the federal government and by the state, target multiple categories. Polson plans to apply the bulk of its windfall on significant water and sewer projects. In addition to direct funding, the state has established competitive infrastructure grants that the city also intends to pursue.
According to Meece, by leveraging these funding opportunities, the city hopes to spend $5.8 million in new water and sewer projects over a two-year period, which would amount to more than $4 in external funding for every $1 spent in local funds.
The sewer project, if fully funded by state, federal and grant money, would expend $2,150,000 to rebuild two lift stations (Lakeview and Riverview), remove roots from sections of sewer mains and update the electronic monitoring system.
The city has also proposed spending $3,675,000 to fix an aging well house and replace Hillside Reservoir and a water main on 4th Ave. In addition to ARPA money and grant funds, the latter project would include borrowing $1.2 million from the State Revolving Loan Fund.
If the funding comes through, Meece says the city could accomplish in just two years what would normally take up to eight years. While optimistic about the funding opportunity, he expressed some concerns about the feasibility of getting so much work done across Montana so quickly.
“I’m not sure we have the capacity in our economy to do this many projects across the state right now,” he said. “We have a two-year window within which to get these funds spent – that’s a whole lot of work for the city of Polson to get done.”
Meece also expects to see additional funds to become available for broadband and transportation projects.
In other business:
• Meece announced that the city has implemented mandatory water restrictions in response to the prolonged dry spell. People with odd street numbers should water only on odd calendar days, while those with even street numbers should water only on even calendar days.
“We’re not in crisis mode, but the tanks are not filling as fast as we would like to see them fill,” he told the commission. “As quickly as we get water in, it’s moving back out again.”
• The commission approved the hiring of Mike Larson to replace retired city judge Dennis DeVries, effective July 1. Meece noted that the position had been switched from contractor to employee, since it doesn’t conform to criteria for a contractor. The city had two applicants for the post.
Larson has owned Business One since 1985 and worked part time for the Polson School District driving the activity bus. He’s also served as a substitute justice of the peace. “I’ve known Mike for 30 years and I think he’ll be a great addition to the staff,” said Briney.
• The commission declined to grant an extension to a subdivision improvement agreement with Cougar Ridge Development. The extension would have given developer Mike Maddy until June 1, 2022, to complete agreed upon improvements to Whitewater Place in the Ridgewater development. The existing agreement expired July 1. While a motion was made to grant the extension, it died for want of a second.