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PACE program, Spencer trails expansion, reburbished fire boat top council agenda

by JULIE ENGLER
Whitefish Pilot | February 28, 2024 12:00 AM

With only one public comment all evening, the Whitefish City Council made quick work of addressing a handful of items at its regular meeting Tuesday, Feb. 20.

The owner of a parcel of land addressed as 34 and 36 East Lakeshore Court requested annexation into the city. The property totals about 1.6 acres and has a single family home under construction.

According to the staff report, construction of the home began with the intent to connect to city sewer but was constructed in the county and was not subject to building inspections. 

“It’s currently zoned county R1 and the building that’s being constructed … would meet all of our current standards even though it is being constructed in the county as of now,” said Whitefish City Planner Nelson Loring. “Sewer is available off East Lakeshore Court and they would be required to connect to sewer on annexation.” 

There was no public comment and the council voted unanimously to approve annexation. The parcel will be rezoned WSR.

The council also voted unanimously to establish a Whitefish PACE program. The PACE act is the Commercial Property Assessed Capital Enhancement program that is administered by the Montana Facility Finance Authority.

“The program qualifies owners of commercial, industrial, nonprofit, agricultural, and multi-family properties, within a designated district, financing through low-cost, long-term loans to pay for water conservation, energy-efficiency improvements, and renewable energy,” said Whitefish City Clerk Michelle Howke.

Whitefish resident Robin Paone spoke in favor of the PACE program. She said the savings cover the cost of financing and there are no upfront costs.

“I see this as a win for our commercial property owners, a win for our utilities and a win for the city of Whitefish,” Paone said.

Types of eligible projects include existing building retrofit improvements, new construction and renewable energy improvements. 

Howke said the council held a work session on the matter in April 2023 and adopted a resolution of intent to establish the PACE program in February 2024. 

A presentation for the Spencer Recreation Expansion Proposal by Whitefish Legacy Partners and Flathead Area Mountain Bikers (FAMB) kicked off the regular meeting of the Whitefish City Council.

Ron Brandt, executive director of FAMB, and Jed Sankar-Gorton, program director from Whitefish Legacy Partners, first brought the plan for the expansion to the council last July. They were back to get the go ahead for the new land-use license.

The city holds a special recreational-use license with the state for a 1,500-acre parcel of state land at Spencer Mountain. That license is about to time out, so FAMB, Legacy Partners and the DNRC are working on an updated 10-year agreement. This time, it will be a land-use license. 

Sankar-Gorton said the MDT has been planning a realignment of U.S. 93 West and the expansion proposal hinges on those improvements.

“A key piece of our proposal is to add a trailhead in the East Spencer area that is just west of the old Fish House restaurant,” Sankar-Gorton said. “It’s a pretty ideal spot for another trailhead in terms of connectivity into the rest of the Spenser unit but also getting the community to trails quicker.”

The expansion plan would add about nine miles of trails and a 30-40 space parking lot at the new trailhead, to be privately funded through grants and donations. The two said the current parking lot at Twin Bridges is not sufficient and there are just a few, expensive options to expand it.

“This is just a proposal that we bring to DNRC which then goes through environmental analysis,” said Brandt. “The public will have time to give opinions.”

Construction wouldn’t start before 2026-27.

The council voted unanimously to have the groups move forward with the process.

The Whitefish Fire Department needs to refurbish its existing fire/rescue boat. Whitefish Fire Chief Cole Hadley requested the council approve awarding the bid to do Riddle Marine from Lewiston, Idaho.

The department received two bids for the project, one for $95,900 from a company in Missouri and the other from Riddle Marine for $92,960.

“In 2012, the fire department purchased, at auction, a 2003 landing craft fire/rescue boat for fire and EMS response on the Whitefish Lake,” said Hadley. “Since that time, the boat has been a great asset to the department and has been essential on many rescue responses on the lake.”

The 28-foot  boat with a 1999 Mercury Sport Jet 240 engine, is now 21 years old and requires updating and refurbishment to provide continued response.

The refurbishment/retrofit project includes steps that will bring the boat into compliance with the USGC and provide Whitefish with a safe fire/rescue and hazardous materials response platform for the lake.

The work the boat requires, in part, replacement and disposal of non functioning or outdated components, addition of updated firefighting jet pumping equipment, hull preservation, and modifications to accept new power and propulsion mechanisms.

Hadley said the fire department budgeted for this expense in FY24 at $100,000 and the Burlington-Northern Santa Fe Railway Foundation awarded a grant of $25,000 to be used for the refurbishment. The remaining financial requirement for this project is $67,960.

The council voted unanimously to award the bid for the renovation of the rescue boat.

“The Montana constitution requires every 10 years each local government ask the voters whether they want to study and review the form and structure of the local government,” Howke said. “The ballot needs to be on the June 4 primary election. If the voters pass the ballot question, then the study commissioners will be elected at the Nov. 5, 2024 election.

After the review, the study commission can recommend no change or make a recommendation to vote in time for the election in November 2026.

Howke asked the council to specify the number of members to be elected and approve the dollar amount that will fund the activities of the study commission. The minimum number of commissioners is three, the maximum seven, and the number of them must be odd.

If the council chooses five commissioners and only two apply, the council appoints the other commissioners after taking letters of interest.

Councilor Rebecca Norton served on the commission last time and was asked about her experience to help guide the current choices.

“I think if we went up to five, it might be better. I think seven might be a little cumbersome, in terms of scheduling,” Norton said. “It’s a two-year commitment of meeting, not only with the staff but meeting with the public and compiling recommendations.”

The council agreed to have five commissioners this round and approve the budget of $21,445. 

Jessica Tubbs, Chair of the Whitefish Community Library Board of Trustees, was on hand to witness the council vote unanimously to appoint Gail Leonard and David Wiley as Trustees-in-Training to the Whitefish Community Library Board.