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By Nathan Bourne
Pathfinder 

Sewer District meets remotely

Seeley Lake Sewer

 

March 26, 2020



SEELEY LAKE – The Seeley Lake Sewer District (SLSD) held its March 19 meeting via teleconference call to avoid congregating people per recommendations to limit the spread of coronavirus. The District finally received a bill from their attorney for regular Board business for ten months of work in 2019. In other business the District received word that a grant for Phase 2 is no longer available and the Board voted to reapply.

The 42-page invoice from Beal Law Firm covered charges from March - December 2019 and totaled $47,860.57. The District’s 2020 fiscal year budget for legal expenses is only $7,000. This invoice does not include any of the costs for defending the District from the ongoing lawsuit filed by Don Larson and others landowners and residents of the District.

District Manager Jean Curtiss said that approximately $2,400 of the bill might be able to be charged to one of the Phase 1 grants as it was directly related to dealing with easements for the project.

Curtiss said she felt they could learn from this and not send things they are working on such as the rules and regulations to the attorney quite as early. This would let the District work out more of the documents without having to be paying so much to the attorney to do first drafts.

Director Beth Hutchinson, who has been requesting the attorney’s invoice repeatedly at Board meetings, suggested that the Board wait until next month to discuss paying the invoice. She said she was unable to really dig into the 42-page invoice ahead of the meeting and didn’t feel that the District needed to rush to pay it being that the attorney didn’t bill them for over a year.

The Pathfinder questioned one charge from July 23, 2019 for $663 that states it was for researching how the Board could remove one of its own Directors. The Pathfinder asked who the Board wanted to remove and under what grounds.

Hutchinson said the charge appears to correspond with the time she sent a letter to the Missoula County Elections Administrator seeking information on citizen’s initiatives, referendums and recall of elected officials. Hutchinson said that was one of many charges she felt were not authorized by the Board and that they need to take a real look at how the attorney is used in general.

Curtiss pointed out that at some point during the year, noone else could remember exactly when either, the Board changed how they were sending requests to the attorney. Directors were randomly sending questions and they realized that they needed one appointed person to send all questions through to the attorney. The Board appointed President Pat Goodover to be that contact person.

The Board voted to delay paying the invoice and discuss it at next month’s meeting.

The District was informed that the 2019 Treasure State Endowment Program (TSEP) funds for Phase 2 are no longer available because all of the available funds have been allocated to other projects in the state.

There was approximately $80 million in projects that were applied for and only $21 million in funding so it was a first-come, first-serve situation. The funds were allocated to projects as they met start-up conditions and Seeley hasn’t met its start-up conditions yet. It is still possible funds will be available if other projects terminate but it is not likely.

The Board voted to pay Great West Engineering $5,000 to reapply for TSEP funds for Phase 2 that might be made available during the 2021 legislative session.

Curtiss talked to the Pathfinder after the meeting about the decision to hold the meeting remotely using a conference call. She said the recommendation to not hold meetings due to the coronavirus from the health department combined with the fact that several Board members fall in the high-risk age group played into the decision.

Curtiss said she didn’t have a lot of time to research options but she knew that they needed to be able to invite the public into the meeting and allow for comments. The District regularly uses Great West’s phone bridge to do conference calls with funding agencies so she recommended they use it for the meeting.

Several items that were originally on the agenda were pushed off a month to give them time to figure out how to overcome some limitations. One limitation is the ability to view documents during the meeting. Curtiss said she prepared for the meeting by increasing the amount of written material Board members could view ahead of time but they were unable to send out engineering drawings in time. That resulted in having to put those items off for a month.

Several members of the public called into the meeting and were able to comment. Curtiss said if this need to meet remotely continues they will research using some other service like Zoom video conferencing.

The next meeting is scheduled for April 16 at 5:15 p.m. Watch the District’s website, seeleysewer.org or look for posted agendas for the location of the meeting or information on how to participate in the meeting if it must be held remotely.

 

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