At its August 25th meeting, the Stevensville Town Council reconsidered a previously tabled sewer main extension project that was approved by the former council but voted to once again table the entire project until at least next year.
Under the administration of former mayor Brandon Dewey, the project was approved and a contract was signed with J & J Excavating for approximately $243,704. The project was slated to be completed in 2022, but hit a snag regarding property on the west side of Park where the sewer main was to be installed. An article in the Bitterroot Star on October 27, 2021 stated that on October 14, the town council approved a contract award to J & J Excavating for the sewer main extension project and that it would be funded with sewer fund reserves. The Town recently received an estimate from J & J for moving the sewer main to the east side of the street which added about $56,000 to the total cost.
According to Mayor Steve Gibson, he had received an email from the community center committee offering to pay half of the cost of the sewer main extension project in exchange for a share of the income from any future hook-ups to the new main. Bob Thomas and Lorraine Roach, representing the Stevensville Community Center committee of the Stevensville Community Foundation, were at the August 25th meeting to plead their cause, which is the need for hooking up to the town’s sewer system in order to build a community center facility at the corner of Park Avenue and Middle Burnt Fork.
Gibson started the discussion by suggesting that the shared income could jeopardize the terms of the current sewer bond and more research would be needed. He said he would need to get legal advice about that. He also said there was no money in the budget for the project. Council member Marilyn Wolff moved to table the project, due to the fact that the money is still not in the budget.
Under public comment on the motion, and under questioning by council members, Thomas stated the project for the community center has been in existence since 2000. Thomas said he understood it would take about $300,000 to complete the sewer main project. He said the community center is dependent on a sewer system of some kind. They are proposing to subsidize $150,000 of the cost and are asking for a repayment share from future hook-ups.
“We understand that it would be a benefit to the city to put the funding into next year’s budget…,” said Thomas. “What we’re looking for is a commitment one way or the other. If we can’t do that then we’ll probably close up shop and do something else… We’re just frustrated with the fact that we had this thing done clearly and properly… under the old administration. I appreciate all you’ve done… but we’d like to know. I don’t understand this process. What do I do to sit down at the table and discuss what is acceptable to you? I don’t know how to do that. I’m not complaining. I just don’t know what you want.”
Roach said they needed to know one way or the other how they were going to do their project, either sewer or septic. She said the property was annexed in 2004, and according to state law, there is supposed to be some benefit to the property owner for doing that. She said the committee wasn’t looking for any particular benefit at that time until they were ready to start moving dirt for the community center. “If the sewer main is not extended, our only option is to put in an above-ground septic system which would cost us $100,000…,” said Roach. “One way or the other, we would like to move forward with a capital campaign this fall. To do that it would help if we knew which way we were going. We won’t need the sewer in this fiscal year… We have a number of major donors who are very interested in seeing this move forward… we would prefer not to be in limbo about the sewer/septic options. The cost share is a pretty standard thing that’s done in development projects…”
Gibson said he understood the community center project was estimated to cost $3.8 million. “How much have you raised?” he asked Thomas.
“Half a million,” Thomas responded.
Wolff said, “It comes down to the fact that we just don’t have the money in the budget.” She asked Thomas, “Why do you think the community center has failed to be built in the last 20 years?”
Thomas said the property was purchased in 2000, and they entered an agreement with the Stevensville School District to join the district’s adjacent northern four acres to the Foundation’s 3.5 acres. He said the idea at the time was to create a multi-faceted community center, including a swimming center, food bank, free clothing store, school music rooms, etc., an actual “complex.” In 2005, the school administration changed and the agreement fell apart. Then the recession hit and the project was put on hold until about 2017 when Thomas decided to put renewed effort into getting the project completed. The Community Center Complex board was disbanded, and the project came back under the management of the Stevensville Community Foundation. “Now we’re here and we’ve been working hard to get to this point,” he said.
In response to a question from Wolff, Thomas said he felt there was good support for this project from the community. “We recently completed a survey which showed all kinds of interest.”
Wolff also wanted to know who exactly was supporting the project financially. Thomas said the Jane S. Heman Foundation has pledged $500,000. Wolff wondered if the group had contacted the state regarding the USDA’s community facility grants. Thomas said they had and it was difficult to qualify.
“I just wonder about the viability,” said Wolff. “Hamilton and Missoula provide a lot of this already.”
The council ended up voting unanimously to table the sewer main extension project. After the vote, Gibson commented, “I’m personally not against the concept… but there’s no way I or the council can commit to next year’s budget at this time… It’s not that I personally oppose the project, but I don’t think any of us can guarantee that it’s going to be done.”
Under claims approval, the council voted not to pay a claim of $3335 for tractor rental for mowing at the airport. Michalson said the airport manager had been told by the mayor not to do this, but it was done anyway. The airport manager was going to be asked to pay the bill himself, the mayor said.
In other business, the council:
• approved meeting time changes for September 1st and 8th to 6 p.m. due to budget hearings. Revenue will be discussed on September 1 and expenditures on September 8.
• approved Resolution 507 establishing mill levies for FY 2022-23. The mayor noted it would be an approximate 1% increase.
• approved Resolution 508 establishing lighting district taxes for FY 2022-23. The mayor noted that taxes in most lighting districts would be decreasing, some significantly.