Did you miss the party at the Monday (March 4, 2013) Polson City Council meeting? The crowd was in a celebratory mood from the start with lots of laughter and plenty of joking (inside jokes). I’ve never seen anything like it. City Manager Todd Crossett and his Envision Polson! group got one of their BIG wishes approved. The city will take on a risky debt bond so they can have a $386,000 walkway under the Highway 93 bridge. No public hearing was offered simply because they were not obligated to do so. What amazes me is apparently these people have no conscience. Last March, Darlis Smith (Orton Heart & Soul coordinator) and David Whitesell (Polson Superintendent of Schools) presented the results of an Envision Polson! community survey to city government officials. Directly from the minutes taken that evening, they reported that the community complained because “decisions are made without citizen input – often favoring the wealthy and those in government.”
Polson resolution No. 739, allowed by state law, established a TIF district (Tax Increment Financing). The purpose was to identify “blight” within the specified area and provide opportunities for “rehabilitation and redevelopment” thereby, in theory, property values will improve and generate increased revenue to pay the bond–hence the gamble and the risk in repaying the bond. The responsibility and obligation for oversight and prioritizing blighted projects was given to the created Polson Redevelopment Agency (PRA) including Jules Clavadetscher, Lou Marchello, and Ken Avison, among others. There is evidence by reading city council minutes that the PRA started off in the right direction as they were looking at possible blighted projects like the Railyard and the Gambles building on Main Street. In October 2011, Mr. Clavadetscher reported “that the Gambles building was currently the top priority.”
What evidence is there that City Manager Todd Crossett and his Envision Polson! group stopped the Gambles building project? Project plans were rapidly re-prioritized within a matter of a few weeks. From city council minutes:
April 16, 2012–Mr. Clavadetscher reported “The PRA is in the process of obtaining a commercial appraisal of the [Gambles] building which should be available by the end of April. The PRA will then make a recommendation to the City Commission on how to proceed on the Gambles building. [Here it comes–the first hint in a change of direction] Mr. Clavadetscher presented an unanticipated project that was recently presented to the PRA regarding construction of a trail along Sacajawea Park that would eventually tie into the bike path being created in Riverside Park by a walkway under the Arms Forces Memorial Bridge.” Note: The PRA later paid $86,000 for the Sacajawea Park trail. Also, this is one of the Envison Polson! stated goals.
May 7, 2012–City Manager Crossett and Jules Clavedetscher spoke with the Salish Point Committee regarding the concept of the trail connecting under the bridge.
May 21, 2012–The agenda stated: REVIEW OF PRA RECOMMENDATION FOR GAMBLES BUILDING
Mayor DeVries asked if Jules Clavadetscher wanted to update the Commission on the Gambles building. Jules Clavadetscher stated that at this time the PRA is considering a TIF Bond that would be paid back with TIF district revenues…Mr. Clavadetscher stated that it is premature to discuss the Gambles building at this time.
A bit of research shows that redevelopment agencies for TIF districts have been abused in other states. California has acquired so much risky debt that their state has banned TIF programs. The problem occurs when TIF districts become subject to local politics and favoritism; projects that are not examples of blight are approved. It appears this is what has happened in Polson. The rationale presented for the walkway under the bridge had little or nothing to do with TIF requirements. The rationale was that the assembled people and city government officials have wanted this for a really, really, really long time. The project was unanimously approved by the commissioners without so much as a sketch of the project or other pertinent information. It was obvious the yes votes were guaranteed prior to that evening’s meeting.
Stand and face the river where the new Riverside Park trail ends on the right. Turn left and you will see the extremely deteriorated condition of the roads and sidewalks. The message to the “little people” of Polson might be to keep wishing your roads and sidewalks and other necessary infrastructure will be repaired. Maybe after you wish for a really, really, really long time, city government officials will realize their obligations to all citizens rather than the privileged few.
Looking ahead: This is the same group that will exclaim at the end of the two year Heart & Soul project that they have interpreted the will of the 5,000 people in the Polson Community and will recommend new codes, ordinances, regulations, and zoning. Trust them? I think not.