The Dillon City Council met on Wednesday, June 15th with a full agenda. After the pledge of allegiance and looking over previous minutes up next was an amendment to make it so a person could legally light off fireworks on the fourth of July. After about ten minutes of confusion and discussion over 12 A.M. vs 12 P.M. The resolution was passed to allow fireworks over July 4th.
Next up discussion to hold a hearing to amend the physical budget for the 2021 to 2022 year. The budget amendment is based on needing to transfer money from the cash reserves and the water operating account. Part of this money is to go to cover a telemetry system they have installed to help monitor the water system. The other is a transfer to cover water replacement main costs. As of now from the discussion it seems they are $500,000 over budget on the water line replacement project. They have outspent the contingency fund set in place by $250,000.
Higher wages for the employees working at the library were up next. As usual, where will the money for this come from? The City Librarian has reworked the budget was the answer. In the past the library has had problems hiring and retaining workers due to wages. They are trying to bring the wages up to the same as most city employees earn.
Report from City Attorney Marta Farmer, they have been having meetings with the County Commissioner’s on the city vs the county lawsuit. The county has given their lawyers the go ahead to start accepting a settlement and to put forth an offer. The next big step will be a meeting with the attorneys as well as the owners of the subdivision as this will impact them the most.
The Director of Operations report brought up questions in regards to street department guys and water department guys working on different projects and how they balance the budget for the city when they bill for time. The different departments help when one is busier than the other. But each department has a budget and time set for employees.
The Chief of Police report had a few questions as they have obtained new software that allows more accurate reporting. One question brought up by Councilperson Mary Jo O'rourke was two unattended deaths in one day. The Chief of Police stated this is not unusual as they have had as many as four.
Next up was the Fire Chiefs report they had a slower month than the last couple of months. Giving them a little breathing room to get prepared for the potential of forest fires.
Minutes moved freely up to the discussion of the Normal Street bridge closure. The closure is due to the condition the bridge is in. A few members of the city council along with an engineer who volunteered to look at it, recommended it be closed and removed as it is not safe to be used. At this point Council Person O’Rourke spoke and made a motion to reopen the bridge and remove the dangerous concrete barriers that the city has placed in front of the bridge. Reopen the bridge and allow it to remain open tell the city provides a written report describing the process the city uses for closing bridges, roads, and other infrastructure. Also, a written report from an engineer describing the current conditions of the walking bridge, structural deficiencies of the walking bridge, the life of the current walking bridge, options for replacing the bridge including cost estimate, and the fifth was engineering recommendations for the walking bridge.
Director of Operations Mr. Hazelbaker said as a correction.
“Right now, we do not have concrete barriers in front of it, we just have chain-link fencing on it with a warning.
Council person O’Rourke responded back. “Right now, there are blockades surrounding the bridge that are dangerous. The most dangerous part of that area is the sidewalk. The sidewalk that boundaries that area on the block on either side. There are several pieces of that sidewalk that have jumped up and one of those has been placed in front of the bridge and that needs to be removed. I don’t care. I have a motion on the table, since we have closed that bridge, I have received more than thirty phone calls, emails, and text messages from people who live in the area who regularly use that bridge. We have a process, and they include getting engineering reports and other steps we need to go through.” At this point Mayor McGinley said we have a motion to reopen the bridge. Does anyone second the motion. George Johnston seconded the motion. The mayor then opened it up for comment. Council Person Nye brought up during the discussion put into closing the bridge; it was recommended in 1981 that the bridge needed to be closed and or replaced due to structural integrity.
The mayor stated that this has shown a problem with the bridge and if someone were to fall off the bridge or get hurt while using it, the city’s insurance would not cover them if they were to be sued. It would be passed onto the taxpayer. Council member O’Rourke stated “We have a process we go through by law when we decide we are going to close different portions of our infrastructure. I will not go through these as we have a City Attorney here that can go through these. We should not just decide to close something because we think we should. We need to go through the professional process. We need to get an engineer to look at that bridge and give us a written professional report.” City Attorney Marta Farmer stated that if something is an immediate hazard, we do need to close it off. That process can be started but if something is an immediate hazard it needs to be addressed. Council member O’Rourke continued to argue stating she has had 50 plus people who must use the bridge daily they have no other route. When asked for the emails and text messages she refused to present them. The argument went back and forth when Councilperson Hand asked if she wanted to go through this process. Do you really want to spend up to $60,000 on seeing if it is liable, she stated yes. Southwestern Montana News went and looked at the bridge, there are no concrete pillars blocking the bridge many of the statements made were false. The motion to have it reopened was rejected with only councilperson O’Rourke and Johnson voting yes on it. When the council was opened for public comment business owners were on hand to ask about the construction. Many concerns have been raised by the businesses on Idaho St. Especially those businesses between Center Street and Bannack. They have had road closed signs up now going into 10 weeks. Many promises have been made, timelines have been given and none of it has been followed through with. These owners stated they understand that the waterline needs to be replaced but they have had no communications from both the city, city council, or the construction company. They have been told multiple times the construction would start the next week only for nothing to happen, after all this the construction company decided to start at the other end of town. When pressed for answers no one on the council seemed able to give any. If they did give answers to certain questions like why the barrier on the intersection of Bannack and Idaho was there for safety reasons it could be pointed out that in other parts of town, they did not follow the same protocol.
Council Person Mary Jo O’Rourke stated that when this started, she pushed for it to start earlier and for them to have weekly updates, but none of this was followed through. As a business on Idaho street, I have had a construction worker come in twice to hand me a paper stating water was going to be shut off. No other communications have occurred with the construction company, no updates, nothing. This is what seems to be the main frustration with the businesses on these blocks as limited access, unfollowed through statements, and no support from the council members to help with communications or holding the company responsible and in line with what the contract states as well as what they say they are going to do. For most business owners it seems to have gotten out of hand with the mismatch of what they choose to tear apart, what they have not finished, the choosing of where they place road closed signs and the uncertainty of what is happening next. Let's hope in the future our council members will put the same amount of energy into other problems within the city that greatly affect the everyday operations, from employee pay to holding those contracted with the city to do what the contracts state, in the time it states, and the agreed upon pay. If they are willing to request a $60,000 engineering study then employee wages and other concerns that require budget changes for those working should not be up for discussion.
The businesses on Idaho street are looking for answers and changes to the lack of communication between the city, the construction company and the engineers. If you would like to voice your concern, reach out to the City Council member that represents you and ask them about the over budgeting of this project, how it will be paid and what caused it. If you are a business or concerned citizen, they will be holding a tentative meeting scheduled for June 21, 2022, at 6 P.M.
If you have questions on past meetings and want to view them you can view them on Southwestern Montana News Facebook and YouTube Channel.
The letter for the tentative meeting can be read below. CITY OF DILLON, MONTANA To whom it may concern, We are working hard to obtain more information to share with you all regarding the water lines and street project. We invite you to join us for a tentative meeting so we can pass along this information with all of you. The meeting will be held Tuesday June 21, 2022, at 6:00 p.m. in the Council Room. For any questions, please feel free to give us a call at 406-683-4245.