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Polson Commission discusses legislative strategies

by KRISTI NIEMEYER
Editor | January 26, 2023 12:00 AM

The Polson City Commission girded for the legislative session last week by supporting several resolutions outlining the priorities of the Montana League of Cities and Towns.

The resolutions championed by MLCT offer positions on everything from property tax reform and protection of local revenues to affordable housing, land use and environmental regulation.

In introducing the resolution to support the MLCT, city manager Ed Meece pointed out that just two weeks into the legislative session, 4,000 separate bills have been drafted. Of those, MLCT is tracking around 500.

“If there are items here the commission is not comfortable with, my suggestion is you take the resolution out instead of crafting a different one,” he said.

Commissioner Brodie Moll promptly took him up on the offer, voicing his opposition to two resolutions that he felt targeted specific communities instead of the entire state.

“The cities of Colstrip and Great Falls are asking for special attention,” he said. “Every city can probably be in that category.”

“It seems weird to advocate for another city when we have issues,” added commissioner Jake Holley.

The commission voted to support the MLCT agenda, minus the two resolutions in question. Commissioners also discussed how to reach out to legislators about matters concerning the city. Carolyn Pardini advocated keeping an eye on committees of interest and noted that virtual testimony is much easier than traveling to Helena.

Moll mentioned that Rep. Linda Reksten, who lives in Polson, sits on the local government committee. “That’s a reason for us to be a lot more engaged with her on that committee,” he said. “We’ve got somebody from our community – we are her city.”

While Meece was comfortable advocating on the city’s behalf, either virtually or in person, he encouraged the commission and mayor to stay involved in the process and, if necessary, consider making the trip to the Capitol.

“There are some times and some issues where you have to do it face to face,” he said. “I believe it’s much more helpful when one elected official is talking to another elected official. It carries a lot more weight than when staff shows up.”

In other business, Pardini inquired about the broken water line at the intersection of Main St. and Hwy. 93. Workers repaired it during December’s fierce cold spell, but the excavation remains open and is fenced off, while the light at that intersection appears to be malfunctioning, especially for those trying to walk across 93.

“I can’t push the button to get a walk signal,” she said.

Meece explained that when the water main ruptured under the road, the city had to hire an outside contractor to dig it out, and in the process wiring for the traffic light was damaged.

Although a temporary fix is in place, the Montana Department of Transportation needs to take care of the issue.

“They don’t want us to fill the hole in until they do the final repair,” said Meece.

Leslae Dalpiaz was on hand to report on her building at the intersection of 7th and Main St., which has been transformed from an automotive repair shop into a warehouse for Flathead Threads flanked by office space, with help from Tax Increment Financing (TIF) money.

The renovation included exterior paint, a new furnace, roof, garage doors and windows. Dalpiaz said she hired local workers to help with the project.

She described the TIF grant application process as “simple, swift, and easy to complete.”

“You enabled me to do two things I would not be able to do – a new furnace and a new roof – things that will benefit the building and the community,” she added.

“I appreciate that you used local workers,” said commissioner Jen Ruggless. “The building looks absolutely amazing.”

Ruggless also teamed up with Tyler Baker, the city’s special projects manager, to discuss enhancements to the website and social media, and other communication strategies.

Baker has been cleaning up the city’s website, deleting outdated information and links, and enhancing department pages. He’s also launched an email subscription service which offers weekly updates on upcoming meetings and job opportunities. The goal, he said, is to make the website more user-friendly.

Ruggless has encouraged Baker to look at prototypes for a quarterly newsletter, “a quick one-pager with meeting dates, board vacancies, how to get help” and other information relevant to residents.

Meece said the city needs a social media policy too, and the is looking at ways to issue public alerts when there’s an emergency.

“This guy’s doing a lot of great things,” he said of Baker’s contributions.

Efforts to improve communications with the public seemed to be widely supported by the commission. “We’ve needed this for a long time,” said Moll.