Map courtesy of Dawson County

Citizens vent frustration over new sewer funding

By Kyle Vuille

Ranger-Review Staff Writer

The Dawson County Commissioners met with the public Wednesday night at the Toepke Center at Dawson Community College to address citizens about allocation of taxes within the West Glendive sewer district.

The meeting became necessary after commissioners learned their previous plan for collecting taxes to pay for the district’s connection to and use of the Glendive wastewater treatment plant was not allowed under state statute. 

“In statute, it has to be by acreage because the district encompasses both city and county land and has infrastructure outside the district,” County Commissioner Dennis Zander said. 

The Commissioners along with bond attorney, Mike Dockery, Beth Epley of the Eastern Plains Economic Development Corporation and Doug Keever of West Glendive Public Works gave a presentation to about 25 people. 

The project to connect the district with the City of Glendive wastewater treatment facility is already on its way with an expected completion at the end of September.

The bulk of the meeting focused on how properties within the sewage district will now be assessed taxes to pay for the new treatment system.

Property owners will be charged both a fixed and variable portion. The variable portion is designed to reflect usage, while the fixed portion reflects the size of the property owned. 

Variable fees are assessed in one of two ways. The first way is by using a meter that measures actual water usage. The second is being assessed based on an estimation of water usage. 

In the latter, users who connect to the sewer system will be charged for a base unit – 2.5 people per household. This minimum amount is $689 per year. Others will pay higher rates based on a formula that determines the number of units and whether the connection is residential or commercial. 

If a homeowner disagrees with the assessment made on their property, the home will then be metered and the owner will be pay a usage fee. 

In addition, property owners within the district will be assessed yearly taxes based on the acreage they own. This tax is what most meeting attendees appeared to be upset about. The total annual amount per acre will be $164. In other words, owners of large portions of the  district will be paying more for the project than owners of smaller lots.

The previous system would have allocated equal costs to each user. 

Some landowners within the floodplain of West Glendive are upset because the sewer system is useless to them, yet they will be paying taxes, even more so, paying taxes based on acreage.

Frank Crisafulli is one resident who falls under this category. The owner of Casitas del Mesa said he owns 40-50 acres within the floodplain along with several other properties within the district.

Zander again had an answer for those affected in the floodplain.

“As crazy as it sounds, building a house on 12 foot stilts,” Zander said. “That’s the solution.”

Another question coming from attendees of the meeting was if they lived along the outskirts of the district, could they be excluded.

This was a two part question for the commissioners and the bond attorney because it relates to Montana Code 7-13-113 which states,

“The county commissioners may by resolution make such changes in the boundaries of a district as they shall deem reasonable and proper but may not delete any portion of the proposed area which will create an island of included or excluded lands.”

The other issue this concern brought up was even if a property on the edge of the district was excluded, it would be the remaining landowners in the district who would have to pay more to make up the difference because at this point and time the county has no other source of revenue to pay back the 20 year bond that is funding the project.

Despite a lot of questions and concerns, the commissioners ultimately agreed with the those who complained the statute is not fair, but said there’s not much they can do at the local level.

The only solutions they offered to the public were to write letters to Montana legislators in Helena asking them to change the statutes regarding exemptions within the district.

Reach Kyle Vuille at
news@rangerreview.com.

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