City Meeting

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I watched most of the City Commission meeting on channel 7 last night. Pretty standard stuff (water system upgrades, police department hardware, etc), but during the discussion of annexing a small parcel of land, Dave Pierce (of “Sheriff ” TV commercials fame) made a veiled threat to relocate his auto dealerships to Helena, and taking his 70 employees with him. I wasn’t sure if his ire was directed at the annexation, or the issue surrounding the number, size, and placement of signs for businesses. Mayor Stebbins assured the audience that she & the commission didn’t want to do anything to hurt local business. The oddest point of the night came when someone from the crowd (near the end of the meeting) went to the podium and offered a solution for the illegal immigration issue: re-instate the military draft – he said that would send all immigrants back across the border. Don’t know if he was serious, or just aiming for a cheap laugh.



  1. I don’t think that the threat was that veiled. However, it really shouldn’t matter.

    Why should several acres of commercial real estate on 10th Avenue South, practically in the middle of town, not be part of the city? The reason that those acres have remained un-annexed is pretty obvious, but that doesn’t say much for our city.

    How many property tax dollars have we lost in just the past decade by allowing this situation to continue? Why shouldn’t that profitable business have to pay its fair share toward the city services from which it benefits?

    Helena is unlikely to offer Dave land in the middle of town and not charge city taxes on that land. If he does leave, the profits that lot generates could easily be earned by another entrepreneur.

  2. At the Mayors’ Academy, one of the topics under discussion was the “surrounded enclave” issue. This is common to Montana municipalities, particularly those who have experienced quick growth. The legislature made it possible to “forcibly” annex those parcels, since many of them benefit from city services such as water, sewer, and streets. They should pay their fair share.
    The point that Dave Pierce was attempting to make was that city and county sign ordinances are different, and although he has taken steps to “grandfather” his dealership signs, the issue will have to be re-addressed when the “grandfather” period lapses. As Commissioner Beecher pointed out, there is an appeal process in place, and I anticipate that Mr. Pierce will find the City more than willing to work with him.
    This was the first annexation of many to come. Each parcel will have to be dealt with separately, and there may be some protests from the actual owner of these properties. That was not the case in this instance, since Mr. Pierce leases the land from Mr. Zollie Kelman, who made no protest against the annexation. We did make an exception to the date of the annexation to allow Mike Mader to sell county fireworks through July 5.
    One of the difficulties with surrounded enclaves of county land is that county ordinances apply, rather than city laws. This presents enforcement difficulties and confusion.
    Once again, I will reiterate that it is not our intent to make hardships for business owners. Personally, I will continue to embrace and advocate for growth and prosperity in our wonderful city. And I count on the bloggers for input and assistance:)

  3. P.S. The gentleman at the end with the tongue-in-cheek solution to the immigration dilemma was John Stevens, who ran for City Commission. He is quite a character, and always amusing, if somewhat outrageous.

  4. Speaking as a former resident,the “surrounded enclave” situation has always seemed rather strange to me. Why shouldn’t these enclaves become part of the City of Great Falls?

    I now live in Calgary, and the concept of allowing a “surrounded enclave” would be unthinkable. There simply are none of these isolated tracts of land. I know that land annexation rules are undoubtedly very different between the two areas, but up here we generally annex large tracts of contiguous land to the City of Calgary every few years prior to their development. There are no isolated tracts of land which are not included in the annexation. We are presently in the process of annexing 150 square kilometres to the City. There are clearly some problems involved in these annexations, but they generally go ahead without too much fuss. These large reserves of land on our outskirts certainly do enhance orderly land use planning and development.

  5. While there is an appeal process for Dave Pierce, that will cost him time and money. This sign code was foisted on the City by a vocal minority and a few elitist members of city government who believe they know better than the business people. (At the Commission meetings where the sign code was considered and adopted, the vast majority of testimony opposed the sign code. Yet it was adopted because, as then-Mayor Gray said: “It’s what the people want.” Yeah, right. The “people” who agreed with him and who just didn’t bother to show up and let their opinions be known!)

    The next time you are driving cross country and you want to stop in a strange town for bite to eat, imagine how much fun your journey would be if that town limited its sign heights so you couldn’t find anything.

    Signs matter. Ask any business owner if signs are important to his or her business. Pierce’s suggestion may not be a threat at all, but instead may be a fact. Chalk up another one for our ‘business-friendly’ community.

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