By Nathan Bourne

Slotnick to Seeley: Why not incorporate?


March 21, 2019

SEELEY LAKE - The Seeley Lake Community Council hosted short presentations from County Commissioner Josh Slotnick, Seeley Lake Fire Chief Dave Lane, Seeley Lake Ranger District Recreation Staff Officer Matt Walter and Seeley-Swan High School Principal Dr. Kathleen Pecora at the March 11 council meeting.

Newly elected Slotnick spoke about what it was like to be a new commissioner and then posed the question: Why doesn’t Seeley Lake incorporate?

Slotnick said that as a new commissioner he feels like he has had to learn a dozen different languages referring to all the different departments in the county such as animal control, planning and the health department. He doesn’t have to be fluent in each because the departments all have expert staff but he has to understand enough to have conversations and make decisions.

“That’s been super interesting and very engaging for me as a new thing, to learn a whole bunch about a breadth of issues,” said Slotnick.

Slotnick said he views the commission as a three headed CEO of a 1,000 employee non-profit. The mission of that non-profit is to do right by the citizens of Missoula County in terms of providing services and taking care of the landscape.

When issues come before the board, Slotnick said they are either really basic that can be essentially rubber-stamped or they are really thorny. He said the really thorny ones such as the ongoing South Avenue/Maclay Bridge issue would have been answered a long time ago but there is no real good answer. No matter what decision is made there will be a group of people angry with it.


Slotnick prefaced his Seeley Lake incorporation question by saying that he didn’t know if it had been discussed or decided in the past. He was pondering it as he drove up because Seeley is far enough away from Missoula that it doesn’t feel like a bedroom community like some of the other small communities in the county.

“Given that your issues are profoundly different because of the distance, why not incorporate? Why not be the city of Seeley Lake, with your own mayor and city council and taxing bodies and make up your own rules,” questioned Slotnick.

Council Chair Klaus von Sutterheim said he didn’t feel there was a push to incorporate at this time because the county commissioners haven’t been treating Seeley poorly. He doesn’t like the idea of forming another layer of government with all the funding and service issues that go with it.

A member of the audience said they came from a town that went through incorporation and the taxes went up after the town paid for all the services the county no longer provided such as law enforcement and the city government itself.

Council Vice Chair Jack Greenwood was on the council in the past when incorporation was discussed. Greenwood had talked to several agencies and communities during that process. Some places loved being incorporated while others hated it. Greenwood said that while some county taxes are dropped, city taxes just replace them.

One of the county taxes that wouldn’t be changed is the bond debt for recent projects like the Parks and Trails Bond, Open Space Bond and Library Bond. Though Seeley Lake voters typically vote against bonds, voters in Missoula outnumber them and pass the bonds. This wouldn’t change by becoming incorporated.

Another concern expressed by the audience was that even a locally elected city government might want to raise taxes for projects they didn’t agree with.

* * * * *

Lane has been the Seeley Lake Fire Chief for nearly a year now. In the last year he has worked to learn and adjust to running a more rural volunteer department than he had been involved with in the past. He’s learned the procedures, traditions and culture of the department and is looking to take the department into the future.

Lane’s vision for the department centers on its volunteers. He wants the volunteers to be happy, excited and driven to do the best that they can when the next call comes in. To do this he wants the department to provide the best equipment and training possible.

The department can always use more volunteers and Lane hopes meeting his goals and vision will attract more members.

* * * * *

Walter came on as the Recreation Staff Officer at the Seeley Lake Ranger District at the end of the federal government shutdown in late January. He gave an update on current projects and some new ones on the horizon.

• The salvage logging in the Rice Ridge Fire area will continue into the summer.

• The Big Larch Campground and boat launch should be fully opened by summer.

• Two bridges on the North Fork of the Blackfoot are scheduled to be replaced this summer.

• Rehab work is planned for the Cooper’s Lake Campground.

• Repairs to the Morrell Lookout will be done this summer.

• They are working on writing a proposal to do approximately $40,000 of improvements in Big Larch Campground.

* * * * *

Pecora has been the principal at Seeley-Swan High School for the last nine years and is retiring this June. Kellen Palmer has been hired to be the next principal. Watch for a feature story on Pecora’s tenure at Seeley-Swan in an upcoming issue of the Pathfinder.

The next Council meeting is scheduled for April 8 at the Seeley Lake Historical Museum and Visitor’s Center, 2920 Highway 83. An informal gathering with pizza and water starts at 5:30 p.m. followed by the meeting at 6 p.m.


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