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County approves CDBG planning grant contract with reservations

By Michael Howell

After balking over questions of liability, the Ravalli County Commissioners unanimously approved a grant contract for an engineering estimate of the cost of extending water and sewer services to the Targeted Economic Development District that includes the Ravalli County Airport.
Commissioner Ray Hawk said, initially, that he would not be voting to sign the contract. He referred to some emails from the county attorney’s office questioning the liability that the county would be placing on itself if it signed onto the contract.
“The Department of Commerce contracts like CDBG and the Big Sky Trust Fund, they are all contracts that basically leave the county holding the bag in case something goes wrong, right?” said Hawk.
Julie Foster, Executive Director of the Ravalli County Economic Development Authority, said that she was aware of the concerns raised by the county attorney’s office over the Big Sky Trust Fund grant contracts, but that it was not mentioned in the list of concerns she had received from the office over the CDBG grant under consideration.
“It’s about the same sort of language,” said Commissioner Jeff Burrows. “I don’t like it, but I’ll vote for it. I think we are already down the road in the process. I think we’ve already spent money on it. I think we do have a potential liability, but I don’t think it is likely. We haven’t seen them come back and try to collect on one of these that has defaulted.”
Commissioner Greg Chilcott agreed that the liability issue was a problem. He called the language coming from the Department of Commerce attorneys “obtuse” and said an effort was underway to take the matter before the chairman of the appropriations committee in the legislature.
“And as long as you continue to sign them you’re gonna have this problem, and I don’t care if that’s what you want, to continue kicking this can down the road,” said Hawk.
“We have been kicking the can,” said Chilcott, “but now we have a plan to correct that. But we’ve put a lot of money into this project and if we pull out now, it seems to me like we lose more than we gain. It seems pragmatic and prudent to move forward with this project.”
Hawk agreed to vote in favor of it but insisted on going on the record stating, “You’ve got to solve this. It’s not a good way to do business.”
“This is the way we’ve been doing business. It might not be right. But we are in the middle and we can’t just quit,” said Commissioner Doug Schallenberger.
Foster warned that a similar contract would be coming before the commissioners in about 60 days.
The commissioners unanimously approved the contract.

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