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Ronan council approves continued siren use, marijuana ordinance

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RONAN — The Ronan city council meeting on Dec. 20 began with discussion of the continued use of the local fire siren. Thirty-four community members attended the meeting. All voted in favor of the siren’s continued use.

When the council asked for public opinion on use of the siren, several attending residents spoke up to give their perspectives on its usefulness. One woman stated she lives right by the siren, and it lets her kids know to get out of the road immediately in case a response vehicle was to come by at a high speed. Another mentioned it lets the community know when someone is in trouble, so they can go to the aid of a fellow resident as quickly as possible. A volunteer firefighter commented that his pager had been on the charger when a call went out, and had he not heard the siren, he would not have known to respond.

Concerns brought by members of the public were discussed as well. One attendee asked for clarification on claims that a large percentage of calls announced by the siren went unanswered. Mark Clary, Emergency Management Coordinator for Lake County, explained that when the siren goes off, a volunteer immediately responds. A call may be cancelled after the fact if it turns out to be a false alarm, but someone will already be on their way. Statistics on calls and fire reports are available by request from the Ronan fire chief. 

When asked why the siren is still in use when there is also newer technology in use, emergency responders in attendance explained that in many parts of rural Montana, within certain buildings, and in times of severe weather, reception for all types of communication technology can be inconsistent. Additionally, Clary explained that the company that manages the 911 software pushes through updates without informing dispatch centers, leaving dispatch’s pages shown as sent on their end, but undelivered to firefighters. 

“The technology, yes it’s there. Is it always reliable? No, it’s not,” Clary stated. 

Councilman and Fire Chief Chris Adler commented that Lakeside and St. Ignatius switched from their siren to the newer technology alone and it resulted in missed calls. When pages aren’t acknowledged after three attempts, dispatch moves onto another fire department. Ronan responded to these calls in their stead. 

When asked who was in favor of keeping the fire siren, everyone in attendance raised their hand. The council also received 28 written comments in favor of keeping the siren. The motion to continue its use passed unanimously with public support.

Next on the agenda was the swearing in of five members of the public for terms starting in 2022: new mayor Chris Adler, city judge Allysen Jones, and council members Ryan Corum, Marlene Melton, and Lindsay Myers.

Myers is a business owner of 12 years in Ronan and was selected by the council in a vote 6-1. Originally from a small town in Wyoming, she hopes to bring additional perspective and a younger voice to the council.

Finally, the city council passed a motion to put into place an emergency ordinance regulating the sale of recreational marijuana within Ronan.

Brought by Ronan City Attorney Ben Anciaux and based off the marijuana ordinance recently passed by Polson, the city council went through each page of the proposal to decide on specific parameters for the town.

When deciding on restrictions for marijuana-related businesses, the council opted to add three additional locations a dispensary or manufacturer may not open near: public schools specifically, daycares as licensed by the state of Montana, and the Boys and Girls Club of Ronan.

This means to open a location, a marijuana-related business must both be located within a commercial zone and the proper number of feet away from these new list items, as well as residential zones, places of worship, property owned or operated by the City of Ronan, other marijuana businesses, and all private schools subject to MCA 20-5-402 or listed as a kindergarten provider by the Lake County Superintendent of Schools.

These locations were added to try and circumvent complications such as public schools located within commercial zones. If a school or place of worship opens too close to an established marijuana business, the marijuana business will be grandfathered in to keep their location for at least the duration of their license.

“We’re going to find so many cans of worms,” councilwoman Julie Moore commented when discussing the complexity of deciding location rules.

When possible additional restrictions surrounding marijuana-related businesses were discussed, such as restrictions on smell and appearance, Anciaux pointed out “When you’re thinking about these things, think about ‘what if it was tobacco? What if it was alcohol?’” A decision against these additional restrictions was made with potential for further discussion down the line.

The council also decided to create separate licenses for manufacturers and retailers of marijuana due to the difference in funds made between the two. While a retail license will cost $1,500 per year, a manufacturing license will cost $5,000 annually.

Ronan doesn’t have an advertising ordinance in place at this time, so the discussion of possible restrictions for marijuana-related advertising has been shelved until a later date.

The motion to pass the emergency ordinance went through unanimously. The ordinance will go into effect Jan. 1.

The Dec. 20 City Council meeting was recorded and is available to members of the public upon request.

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