Once again, there were technical difficulties with the live streaming of the Stevensville Town Council meeting on January 28. This was the first in-person meeting in quite some time, due to COVID-19 concerns. The meeting was held at the North Valley Library and just a few minutes in, the live stream failed. Only one member of the public attended in person.
Mayor Brandon Dewey provided the council with the results of a community survey regarding public perception of the police department which was sent out following previous council discussion on how to fund additional police staff. He said the Town had sent out a mass email to about 650 people and also posted the survey on social media on January 15 and had received 194 responses to date.
Among other questions, citizens were asked whether or not they would support a public safety levy. Results were 50 yes, 57 no, 87 no response. For those who did support a levy, they were asked what they would be willing to pay on a $100,000 home value. A majority said $50 per $100k. Would they support annexation to increase the general fund? 51 gave a yes response, 48 no, 21 didn’t know, 71 no response.
Mayor Dewey said the survey is still open. So far it has only been administered online. They plan to distribute some paper surveys as well.
Council member Patrick Shourd asked if a grant could fund one position with a levy funding another position. The mayor said it was possible, but the timing of upcoming COPS grants is uncertain due to the CARES Act. He said there would be a delay if they wanted to fund a position through COPS.
For Stevensville to provide 24/7 police coverage – one officer at all times – the mayor said they would need 4-1/2 officers. He said that doesn’t accommodate vacation or sick leave. Right now, they have three officers plus one chief as soon as that position is filled, so they are only short half an officer. (He said they are currently holding police chief interviews and he feels they have a really good pool of candidates. He would like to narrow it down to three, then put a community panel together and hold a public forum with the candidates.)
The mayor said upping the force to 5-6 would accommodate increased growth and help cover sick leave and vacations. He said a sixth position would allow for more time to be spent on investigations.
Dewey also said the Town has been in contact with the Sheriff’s Office regarding the recent letter about the County taking over all of Stevensville’s felony cases. He said that the Town’s attorney, Scott Owens, and County Attorney Bill Fulbright had discussed addressing communication challenges between the two agencies. Dewey said that Interim Chief Ellington and Sheriff Holton had met to attempt to resolve some friction between the departments. The mayor said it was expressed that it was not the Sheriff’s intent to unilaterally circumvent the Stevensville Police Department. It came out that the Sheriff’s Office had been seeking a dialog and a meeting with Stevensville’s leadership as far back as November. “Those requests never made it to my office,” said Dewey. The Sheriff said his office was having a hard time meeting the demands of Stevensville’s calls for service that were coming in – they have been covering half of Stevensville’s calls for service – but that he does have resources to help with investigations of certain felony cases, said Dewey. “This is a good path forward in terms of our relationship with the Sheriff’s Office,” said Dewey. “Our relationship is still going to take some work on both of our agencies’ parts to fully repair, but we made a giant leap…”
Dewey also noted that Stevensville’s newest police officer has completed training and will be on the job this week and another officer had been deployed to Washington D.C. following the riot and then had to be quarantined but will also be back on the job soon. He told the council that he hopes this will relieve some concerns of the community over police protection in Stevensville.
The council approved the continuation of the utility assistance program, to be funded at a rate increase from 35¢ to 40¢ per utility customer, effective as of March. There are currently 11 customers on that program, which is available to households with a combined total income of $28,000 or less. The funding for the program has been depleted; January was the last month that funding was available. The mayor noted that the program has never exceeded more than 12 participants. “Over the years we have tried to enroll more people but there is not a ton of interest in the program,” said Dewey.
The mayor read an emailed comment from former mayor Jim Crews. He wrote that the real time comment form on the Town’s website states that the comments will be sent to town council members during the meeting. “I personally believe public comment should be read into the record,” wrote Crews. He wrote that he believes all the comments should be part of the audio record and also that they should be available to the public at the same time they are available to the council members.
A public comment sent in earlier by Craig and Delane Johnson was not read aloud.
The mayor read a letter from airport hangar owner Don Lorenzen concerning “the new demand to call all [airport] hangar owners “businesses,” stating that “the recent demand for business fees is outrageous.” He wrote that not all activities at the airport are “for profit,” which defines a business, and shouldn’t be subject to the $250 per year business license. “Even the $250 business fees charged at the airport for true aircraft repair and manufacturing businesses are unfair,” he wrote. “The $50 fee that is charged to businesses in town in discriminatory. The city could be sued for such action.”
He wrote that his own aircraft ownership and use is a hobby, not a business.
The mayor said he’s still looking to get a couple of public hearings scheduled for the proposed Burnt Fork Estates subdivision in February. One public hearing will be in person and another one will be virtual. He said the council could then start its in-depth discussion at the council meeting of February 25th. Council member Paul Ludington reported that he and council member Jaime Devlin had met with the Creekside Homeowners Association board of directors regarding Burnt Fork Estates. The proposed subdivision is in the ward that Ludington and Devlin represent. “We were meeting with our constituents,” said Ludington. He said there’s quite a lot of information and opinion out there. “You guys aren’t going to like this, I guarantee you,” he told the council, “but there’s a lot of opposition out there.” He said this is the only opportunity a group of people gets to tell another group of people what they can do with their property. “We just can’t say no. There are rules and regulations we have to follow,” said Ludington. But the council can say what additional things they would like the developer to do, he said. There are some significant issues that can be addressed through the conditions of approval. He said he thought the Planning & Zoning Board, on which he sits, did a good job of addressing the various concerns in its recommendation for approval.
Victoria Howell can be contacted at [email protected] or 406-207-8793.