Seeley Swan Pathfinder -

Commissioners Respond to Moore's Letter

 


SEELEY LAKE - Thank you for your inquiry regarding the County’s efforts to resolve the road issue in the Dogtown neighborhood in Seeley Lake. We share your concern for our constituents and the services they receive and have engaged in numerous conversations with the Montana Department of Natural Resources & Conservation (DNRC) and the community regarding the decision to suspend road maintenance in that area.

We’d like to outline the efforts we’ve made to date so that you have a complete picture of the County’s approach to meeting the needs of taxpayers and balancing an increasingly constrained budget.

The information below is a time line we have shared with residents of the area, the Seeley Swan Pathfinder and DNRC representatives.

“At a DNRC meeting held last night with lease holders in the Dogtown area here in Seeley Lake, it was questioned why it took three months for the residents of those roads to be notified of the decision to end county maintenance. The commissioners were included in the original letter sent from Greg Robertson to the DNRC informing them of this April 29, 2015. The residents’ first word of this came from a DNRC letter dated July 31st.”

• Our goal is, and has been from the beginning, to find a solution to improve the road and to continue providing service to residents without using road tax dollars that the County cannot allocate to state-owned roads.

• We worked with Greg Robertson and our Public Works department in April to understand the situation and determine the best course of action to address this issue with our state partner DNRC. We hoped to then reach a collaborative solution.

• During these three months, we met with DNRC and discussed this situation. At that time we hoped to send a joint letter to accomplish five major goals:

1. Inform residents that we are aware of the situation.

2. Educate how the process works and where each party’s responsibilities lie.

3. Assure that we take their situation seriously and are working together to find the best solution for all involved.

4. Explain what that solution is and how it affects them.

5. Identify what they can expect moving forward.

• The letter sent by DNRC to residents in July included a copy of the County’s initial notice to DNRC of the issue, explaining Missoula County’s position. This was not the joint letter we hoped to collaboratively craft.

The concluding paragraph of their letter states that DNRC, “would be willing to facilitate a meeting to discuss lessee responsibilities and options regarding road maintenance, including the possible formation of a Road Users Association.”

We have expressed our dedication to being part of that group and have since proposed maintenance options for DNRC to consider.

• A major obstacle for the County to inform residents is our limited access to the names of affected lessees, which is precisely why we hoped to send a joint letter with DNRC. Our property records indicate the State of Montana owns the land but does not list the lessee names. We rely on the assistance of DNRC to identify these records specifically.

• Both Greg Robertson and myself (Jean Curtiss) have spoken with several residents regarding this issue. The July DNRC letter was not the first communication for many.

History

• Missoula County has historically maintained many roads, driveways and parking lots for schools and community halls throughout the county - whether public or private.

• In 2000, Missoula County hired our first Director of Public Works and he brought a level of professionalism to what was called the Road Department. Since then, the County Surveyors and the Public Works staff have done an incredible amount of research and work to identify which roads have legal public access and which ones are “county public roads.” Our Director (now called Chief Public Works Officer) has worked with legal counsel to clarify how the roads mills and bridge mills can be spent. Therefore, we have stopped plowing private roads and school parking lots.

Issue

• We do not invest public dollars in improving private and school roads.

• The affected parcels of land (land, not buildings) that DNRC leases are not on the county tax rolls as they are owned by the State. Therefore, the County does not collect taxes for the road or bridge funds for those parcels. The lessees pay an annual assessment to DNRC for the land lease and pay taxes to the county on the improvements (the buildings). The road tax is on the land, not the improvements. Because the land is owned by the state, who does not pay land taxes, the county does not collect road tax on these lots.

• It is true that we have a few roads that we continue to plow and periodically grade that are either DNRC roads or belong to other agencies. We are not investing in road improvements, however, when roads reach the point of needing significant repairs before we can continue maintenance, we will have to make the same decision as we did with Grizzly Drive and Cub Lane. The road tax dollars cannot go to roads that are not Missoula County’s responsibility.

• Missoula County has not paid DNRC for what is referred to as Historic Rights-of-Way on roads through School Trust Lands. It is our position that the value of the land and the corresponding payment should reflect two things that DNRC does not take into account.

1. Land that is encumbered by an existing road is not of the same value as the lot it will serve.

For example, the 60-foot right-of-way strip currently known as Grizzly Drive may add up to several acres but it is not worth the same amount of money as the nice lot overlooking the Clearwater River that the road serves.

2. The county should get some value in this purchase equation for the fact that we have maintained the roads for many years, providing access to the lots DNRC leases. The lease lots have less value without maintenance by Missoula County Public Works.

• Residents who reside on Grizzly Drive and Cub Lane are concerned about emergency responders being able to access their property, as well as their ability to negotiate the road in the winter if it is not maintained by someone.

Current Status

• This is a complex issue that needs a simple solution for affected residents. We are diligently working with all community partners to achieve a desired result. We are currently working with DNRC and the county attorney’s office to find a workable solution to improve the road and spread the cost over time. This may involve a voluntary road maintenance association or a special improvement district. Any solution will have to be affordable for those who live along these roads.

Next Steps

• We have heard from the public that they have asked the state to work with the county to find a resolution. We are committed to resolving this issue collaboratively with our state partners to achieve the best result for the community.

As you can see, we have engaged our state partners and the community on numerous occasions. We continue to work to solve the issue and would be happy to discuss the matter further with you should like additional information.

The Missoula County Board of County Commissioners

Missoula, Mont.

 

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