City working to update municipal code

After years of city staffers flagging inconsistencies or other problem areas in the Great Falls municipal code, the city attorney’s office is now conducting a systematic review of the code and presenting changes to the City Commission.

Sara Sexe, city attorney, and her deputy Joe Cik have a file roughly three inches thick of items staffers had flagged in recent years.

“We’re trying to look at it as a whole,” Sexe said.

They’re also proposing a few changes to the City Charter, to clean up typos but also some substantive issues, specifically where the charter conflicts in giving authority over personnel decisions to the city manager and also the City Commission.

Changes to the charter require a ballot measure, so Cik and Sexe will bring it to the commission in late June or early July for a first reading and an ordinance change pending voter approval. If commissioners agree with the changes, the amendment will be on the November ballot. The charter was adopted in the late 1980s and voters have approved amendments related to neighborhood councils and additional mills for library funding.

Cik and Sexe are trying to work in numerical order through the code sections, but pulled a few to the front to take care of before summer. Those dealt with fireworks and off-street parking and driveways, specifically issues related to recreational vehicles being parked on public rights of way.

Commissioners are expected to hear proposed changes to the animal code for a first reading on June 6.

For the most part, Cik and Sexe are working with city departments to clean up typos, fix formatting issues and inconsistencies with current practices, and conflicts within the code as well as conflicts with state law.

“We’re being careful to be consistent with state law,” Sexe said, and making sure the city code keeps up with the Administrative Rules of Montana, which change regularly.

The city can be stricter than state law in many cases, but there were spots in the city code that are in direct conflict with state law.

Within the recently revised Title 9 on public peace, morals and welfare, the city code authorized city police to arrest minors out after curfew, which is a violation of state law.

The provision was changed in April and now allows law enforcement to detain minors breaking curfew until the earliest opportunity to release them to a parent or legal guardian.

The previous code required that children 7 or younger needed parental supervision to discharge fireworks. The new code raises the age to 10.

A provision was also added, at the suggestion of Commissioner Bill Bronson, to allow the city manager, after consultation with the fire chief, to issue an emergency declaration banning the use of fireworks during the normal allowable times if weather conditions such as high winds, drought or extreme heat, pose a danger to public safety.

During their May 16 meeting, commissioners approved changes to Title 17, Chapters 32 and 36 related to off-street parking and driveways.

City staff had been discussing issues with the number of recreational and auxiliary vehicles being parked on public rights of way within the city limits and began exploring ways to address the issue.

The revisions “properly balance the City’s beautification policy and the reality that many property owners and occupants simply cannot meet the off-street parking requirements as they are currently written,” according to the staff report.

Among the major changes are:

  •  Allowing gravel for expanded driveways to reduce costs for homeowners and an administrative policy has been drafted by the city engineer to help homeowners in their selection of gravel or other non-paved materials.
  •  For homeowners on older parts of the city, the expansion of existing street-accessed driveways or the installation of new street-accessed driveways will be prohibited unless approval is granted by Planning and Community Development and Engineering. In such cases, parking should be in the rear of the property. The code revisions allow alley-serviced lots at a maximum of 900 square feet of combined driveway access and associated off-street parking area. For lots that are one acre or larger, the area of the combined driveway and associated parking area may not exceed six percent of the gross lot area.

For more information on the Title 17 changes, click here.