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This is an idea of what could help improve St Marie. Whether or not this plan fails or succeeds depends on the residents of St Marie. This is not something that one person or even one group of persons can resolve. There are some serious problems and it will take all of us that are able to work together in order to keep St Marie from falling further into ruin. With the deterioration that has already gone on, you are running out of time. You will reach a critical point at which you will have no other options. So you can try NOW or you can give up and wait until you are forced out of your home because the conditions up here are unlivable.
Incorporate St Marie into a Township of Montana.
According to Montana law we must first file a petition. The following is the requirements from the Montana Code.
7-2-4101. Petition to organize city or town. (1) Whenever the inhabitants of any part of a county desire to organize as a city or town, the inhabitants may apply by petition, signed by not less than 300 registered electors or two-thirds of the registered electors, whichever is less, who are residents of the state and residing within the limits of the proposed city or town, to the board of county commissioners of the county in which the proposed area is situated.
(2) (a) The petition must describe the limits of the proposed city or town and wards of the proposed city or town. A proposed ward must contain 50 or more registered electors and must have at least 200 inhabitants for each square mile of land area.
(b) The proposed city or town must contain a post office, contract postal unit, or other similar unit operated by or under contract with the United States postal service within the proposed area of the city or town.
(c) Land used for production agriculture in tracts larger than 160 acres and land and facilities used for electric power generation, refining, or smelting may not be included in a proposed city or town without the written consent of the owners of the land.
(d) The petitioners shall attach to the petition a map of the proposed area to be incorporated and state the name of the proposed city or town.
(3) The petition and map must be filed in the office of the election administrator.
It is unknown how many registered voters reside in St Marie. (This information would need to be obtained from the county.) The law states these people must RESIDE in the limits of the city or town. It is assumed 300 voters would be the lesser of those two numbers stated so only 300 people are needed to sign a petition in order to incorporate St Marie into a township.
WHY? Why should we do this?
Allows everyone who lives here to choose people to represent them
The first reason to consider refer back to . By incorporating you will then elect City Officials that are to come from each “district” of St Marie. The voters who live here would get to choose who those officials are. Voting for city officials is done by those eligible to vote. So anyone who is renting a unit and is a registered voter would now be able to vote for someone to represent them and they would have some say in the decisions that are made up here. Currently, renters have 0 rights. Those people who do not belong to the CA but own property and are registered voters would also be allowed to vote. Adult children living in a home with their parents would also be allowed to vote. Currently, our system is comparable to the past when only property owners were allowed to vote. We have progressed beyond that social structure and it is time St Marie changes to allow every eligible voter who resides in this “city” to be allowed to elect officials they believe would best represent them. In addition to the CA members being the only ones allowed to vote for the board they must also “be in good standing”. Anyone who owns a condo unit and has fallen into financial trouble is not allowed to vote at all on any matter.
Everyone pays taxes for infrastructure not just those in the CA or VA
The City could impose and collect taxes on the residents of St Marie. This amount would have to be determined and each property owner would be legally responsible for paying those taxes. Those taxes would be used to maintain city property and the infrastructure such as the streets, street lights, etc. Instead of only 280 people paying to maintain the streets every resident would, by law, be required to pay the City taxes that would be used to maintain the streets.
Uniform laws that affect all properties equally
The City could write laws that affect ALL homes in St Marie. Whatever these laws would be are up to the City Council to decide to put into action and enforce. Currently, only units inside the CA have any Restrictions or Covenants that govern their property. Those outside the CA have no restrictions. If your non condo owner neighbor wants to keep a rooster in their yard that crows at dawn every day, there is nothing you can do about it since they are not subject to the CA laws. Unless there is a County law to prohibit an action, there is little recourse anyone has other than to sue their neighbor in civil court.
City can enforce laws to generate revenue
Once the City has laws in place then they can be enforced. Someone said that to incorporate you would have to have a police department and paid staff. According to Montana law that does not appear to be true. We could contract with Valley County Sheriffs department to provide law enforcement. They are already the only law we have up here. The only difference would be any violation done in St Marie could result in a ticket from the St Marie Township. If you elect a judge and have a court in St Marie then that judge could impose fines for breaking the law. Anyone speeding in St Marie that is ticketed would be fined for that act. Right now there is nothing to deter any crime as there is no potential for punishment. Any of the people who have been trespassing and vandalizing property or breaking into vehicles once caught would be faced with a fine. In lieu of fines, the City could offer community service and those people could be used to help do fire mitigation or other community service projects which would help St Marie. There is revenue that can be generated by City laws. Property values can also be protected with laws that require non-working vehicles to be removed from properties. The possibilities of what a City council could do is limited only by the imagination and the people who are elected.
City could condemn unsafe buildings and have them demolished
The City once laws are in place should have the ability to condemn buildings and have them demolished so that the unsafe buildings are removed and no longer an eyesore that are driving down our property values.
Could operate a city library and receive government funding for programs
There is a library in the Red Building. If St Marie was incorporated that library could become a city library and could apply for federal funding to operate. If that library could be expanded to the second floor of that building, you could have a place for children to go to work on homework or have some kind of after school programs available to them. If you can achieve federal library funding you could afford to hire a librarian and possibly have funding to purchase computers. You could have a room for people to come and use the internet if they needed a quiet place to work. There are many options open to a city library that are not open to a private library which is what we currently have.
City officials would have oversight of Fire District
The St Marie township would have oversight of the SMFD. The Fire District currently does not report to any entity.
City officials would have oversight of Water Department
The St Marie township would also have oversight of the NVCWD. Currently this entity operates independently and if you have a complaint there is no higher authority to appeal to.
Dissolve the St Marie Condo Association
After a Township is incorporated in St Marie I would suggest dissolving the Condo Association. The Condo Association has been struggling for years and it cannot continue as it has in the past. It cannot fulfill the duties of the responsibilities set forth in the By-Laws of the organization. It does not have the funds to operate properly and based on the lack of participation it does not appear that this is going to improve. Sooner or later it will be forced to file bankruptcy if it is not sued for neglecting it’s duties before that happens. Based on Montana Laws and the By Laws many things are not being done. This is not the fault of the Board but rather a result of not enough units in the organization to support the cash flow required to maintain those units. The problems that exist are clearly listed under .
By removing the CA you would tear down one of the walls that separates people in St Marie and adds to the creation of different factions. You would no longer have those people who don’t pay their dues vs those who do. Each unit would be assessed taxes by the city equitably. If you remove the CA then you free up those unit owners from the average $138 or $1,656 dollars annually for condo dues. If each unit was assessed $1,000 a year in taxes to the township, those homeowners would save money and all the other owners not in the CA would be required to pay the same taxes which would create more money for infrastructure, i.e. roads, storm drains, etc.
HOW COULD WE DO THIS?
There are possible options here. These are just ideas that would have to be investigated further. The easy and obvious answer is for the members to vote to dissolve it. Montana law provides ways for Condo Associations to be dissolved and how that property is to be divided. An attorney would need to be retained to assist with this process.
If the Condo Association were dissolved, each unit owner is given ownership of the land in front of their unit and in the rear of their unit and those units on the side be given their side property. The remaining common areas that exist it is recommend they be deeded to the St Marie Township and become city property which the township would then be required to maintain. Instead of only a tiny percentage of people paying to maintain that property, the taxes collected on the whole would be used to maintain that property.
Unite the Community
This is probably the biggest idea and it is the one that is going to require the most from each person. As we have seen over the last 2 years there are plenty of things to be divided over. Politics, religion, color of skin, vaccinated or unvaccinated. Taking sides and fighting over issues has never helped anyone. This community needs to throw off the chains that are keeping them bound and step into a new life. Everything in nature goes through a process of being born, living and dying. Many see dying as the end but when something dies in nature it often brings forth something new.
When a tree dies it decays and goes back into the earth to provide nutrients in the soil that will feed the seeds in the ground and help them to grow. These new plants spring up and take their turn in the sun to fulfill their purpose. Animals die and decay in much the same way.
When a forest endures a fire that destroys the trees, that process of burning releases certain chemicals in to the soil which provide nutrients the soil cannot get any other way. Even though we may see only a burned forest that was once beautiful, there are trees whose seeds will only sprout after enduring the intense heat that only comes from a fire.
St Marie has a choice to make. The way things were no longer seems to be serving the people who live here. What was created served it’s purpose well but things change, people change and you cannot continue to try to force an entity that has out served it’s usefulness onto the people just because “it’s always been this way.” It is time for St Marie to allow the death of the old in order to birth something new.
It is not too late, yet. There is a point of no return but I do not feel we are there yet. However, if things continue as they have, nothing will improve around here. It is the duty, the responsibility of each and every one of us to step up and make a choice. Will we choose to sit by and do nothing while our community crumbles or will some brave people step forward and make a choice and choose to build something new?
See for several suggestions on how to build community here.