Polson reaches terms with city manager

| September 8, 2020 11:20 AM

The Polson City Commission is poised to finalize a two-year contract with a new city manager during its regular meeting Wednesday night.

Ed Meece, a former Livingston city manager whose most recent position was parking program manager for Bozeman, would have an annual base salary of $84,000 under the terms of an employment agreement reached last week. Meece would be eligible for cost-of-living and performance-based increases. He also would receive a vehicle allowance of $200 per month.

The employment agreement stipulates that either side could walk away at any time, though if the commission were to terminate Meece without cause he would receive severance pay equal to six months’ salary.

The commission generally meets two Mondays each month, but this week’s meeting was moved back because of the Labor Day holiday.

Meece was selected as the city’s preferred candidate during a July 28 special meeting, and a negotiations committee was formed with Commissioners Lou Marchello, Brodie Moll and Tony Isbell, along with Finance Officer Cindy Dooley.

The Polson city manager is responsible for overseeing the day-to-day operations of the city, working under the policy guidance of the City Commission. Polson has 43 full-time non-unionized employees who ultimately report to the city manager.

Polson Police Chief Wade Nash has been leading the city as interim city manager since former city manager Mark Shrives stepped down in October 2018.

A candidate search began in earnest last winter. In July, commissioners and city department heads met with each finalist in a series of personal interviews and a meet-and-greet.

The job posting indicated the starting salary for the new city manager would be “market competitive depending upon the experience and qualifications.” The salary was set at $90,353 for Shrives during his fifth year of service in 2018, according to a survey of city manager salaries conducted by the city.

Also Wednesday, Ward 2 Commissioner Bob Martin will officially announce his resignation from the commission, effective immediately. A copy of his resignation letter included in the agenda for Wednesday’s meeting states his move to Swan Lake will make him ineligible to serve on the commission, which he joined in July 2017.

The commission will soon begin accepting applications from Ward 2 residents and will appoint a replacement to serve the remainder of Martin’s term, which ends Dec. 31, 2021.

Wednesday’s packed agenda also includes a vote on whether to send a 3 percent, 20-year resort tax to voters in a special election in January.

Polson’s Economic Development Council recommended the tax, with most of the revenue — 80 percent — going toward city street maintenance and improvements, while 17 percent would be returned to city residents through a property tax rebate. The remaining 3 percent would cover administrative fees associated with the tax.

A resort tax is only an option for resort towns — defined as an incorporated city with a population of less than 5,500 residents with tourism making up a significant portion of the town’s economic base. The 2010 census listed Polson’s population at 4,488.

During an Aug. 24 public hearing, City Finance Director Cindy Dooley noted a resort tax, “allows communities like ours that have high numbers of visitors but relatively few residents to manage the wear and tear on our local infrastructure without overburdening the local residents.”

According to a 2018 report from the University of Montana Institute for Tourism and Recreation Research, nonresident traveler spending was $30,302,000 for Lake County in 2018. Lake County bed tax collections in 2019 were $355,002, up 18 percent over the previous fiscal year.

Based on lodging alone, Dooley estimated that Polson could raise $213,000 annually through a 3 percent tax.

In 2009, voters overwhelmingly rejected a resort-tax measure placed on the ballot, and the City Commission denied a plan to bring the issue to a vote in 2016.

Wednesday’s meeting comes on the heels of a Sept. 3 special meeting, during which commissioners unanimously approved the city’s 2021 budget.

The budget lists total estimated revenue at $11,038,540 and expenditures of $13,143,932. Budgeted expenditures exceed estimated revenues by $2,105,392. The majority of the excess is in the enterprise funds where prior year reserves will be used to finish projects related to the city’s water and sewer systems and upgrades to the golf course.