CDBG back on commission agenda, plus chickens and visitor center lease

This story was updated June 20 at 4:30 p.m.

After a drawn out process that seemingly concluded earlier this month, the city’s allocations for Community Development Block Grant funds are back on the agenda for Tuesday’s City Commission meeting.

The commission voted 2-1 during their June 6 meeting to approve the contentious public facilities portion, which included funding for Paris Gibson Square. The facility is headed by Tracy Houck, who is also a sitting city commissioner, and a number of people called foul on her conflict of interest for involving herself in the process after an advisory board initially recommended no funding for PGS.

Public hearing set for animal ordinance, CDBG funds approved

Commissioner Bill Bronson was absent from that meeting while attending a meeting of a legislatively created group to study tax increment financing districts. Houck recused herself from the vote and Commissioner Fred Burow voted against the measure.

Staff is recommending that the commission vote this week to rescind that June 6 vote for the public facilities portion and conduct a new vote on the issue.

During the June 6 vote, the city attorney was asked whether all three voting commissioners were needed to approve the motion and said that the commission only needed a simple majority. But, the commission had adopted in 1977 a resolution requiring that approval of any resolution requires the affirmative vote of three or more members, which is consistent with state law, according to the staff report.

The city clerk brought the error to the city attorney and staff decided to correct the vote by seeking a re-vote with the full commission present.

“The City Attorney’s office apologizes for erroneous representation to the Mayor and Commission, and recommends that the Commission take action to rescind the prior vote and re-vote on that item. If not corrected, the process by which the CDBG funds were allocated will not be legally supported. In such case, the following Public Facility Improvements allocations, as previously considered by the Commission, will not be awarded by HUD unless another vote is conducted by the full Commission,” according to the staff report.

The commission last rescinded a vote in July 2015 related to the annexation of the Thaniel addition on the northern edge of the city.

Without a redo of the vote, the June 6 vote is legally invalid and the CDBG funding will not be allocated to the public facilities projects. But, the staff report mentions that the commission could amend the CDBG annual action plan to gain the required three votes for approval.

Some residents have suggested Bronson should recuse himself since his son works at PGS and his wife works for NeighborWorks Great Falls. But staff has said because of the nature of the proposed ADA bathroom project at PGS and his son’s job, voting on the particular motion wouldn’t necessarily constitute a conflict of interest. Bronson will make his determination tonight on whether to vote and typically discusses his reasonings before voting.

The commission could send it back to the staff and the advisory board, but there is limited time left to conform with the HUD schedule, according to city planning.

Commissioners will also consider a proposed revision of the city’s animal code. The action has renewed the Great Falls urban chicken debate as urban chicken supporters have viewed the proposal as a chance to to reverse the current ban on chickens in the city limits.

Staff presented the proposed changes to the commission during a May 2 work session and the first reading of the proposal was June 6.

City proposing changes to animal ordinance

Seven speakers, including one non-city resident and two children, spoke in favor of chickens during the June 6 meeting.

Staff received no guidance from the commission to change the current chicken ban and has not changed the proposal before the commission on Tuesday.

As of Tuesday morning, the city had received 22 letters regarding urban chickens and two of those were in opposition.

The city is still waiting for a decision on the summary judgement it requested in a complaint filed against the city by a couple who have been repeatedly cited by the city for harboring chickens on their property in violation of current city code.

Commissioners still have the option to place the matter on the November ballot, an option that may be discussed during the June 20 public hearing.

According to the Center for Disease Control, there are 372 cases of salmonella infections nationwide and 12 of those are in Montana. The Montana cases have been linked to four of the eight strains in the outbreak. A link to the source hatchery has been confirmed for one of the salmonella Hader strain and the source was Metzer Hatcher in California. So far, this outbreak includes 130 people infected with the Hader strain.

Most of the people infected reported handling or purchasing baby chicks before becoming sick, according to the CDC, and the number of outbreaks linked to contact with live poultry have increased in recent years as more people keep backyard flocks. Last year, a record number of illnesses were linked to contact with backyard poultry, according to the CDC.

Two bee keepers spoke on June 6 and wanted the opportunity to provide input in the development of the provision pertaining to bees and staff met with members of the local bee keeping community on June 8 to address their questions, concerns and suggestions.

Other speakers made substantive suggestions, many of which staff said they incorporated into the proposed changes.

If approved, the major changes to the animal code include:

  • a new provision that would prohibit owning bee hives if a neighbor has a medically documented bee allergy;
  • a more formal complaint procedure, requiring name, address, contact information and documentation supporting the complaint;
  • regulating potentially dangerous or dangerous animals;
  • creating an appeal process for those denied a breeder licenses;
  • adding additional penalties to owners of nuisance, dangerous and/or at-large animals;
  • clarifying the number of animals allowed without a multiple animal permit;
  • and the city shelter will no longer take animals from owners to be euthanized, owners will have to have a veterinarian perform that service.

Commissioners will also consider a lease agreement for the city owned Visitor Center.

The city has leased the facility to the Convention and Visitors Bureau with the Tourism Business Improvement District and the Great Falls Development Authority since July 2014 for $1 annually.

The CVB recently decided to move the visitor center from the current location at 15 Overlook Dr. to downtown beginning Oct. 1, but since the current lease expires on June 30, the CVB seeks a month to month lease until they relocate the center. Staff will explore other potential uses and lease options in the coming months.

The Visitor Center was built by the city in 1993 and was originally operated in partnership with the Great Falls Area Chamber of Commerce. For 11 years, the city and Chamber shared the costs of the center, but the Chamber’s operating contract ended on Sept. 1, 20014.  The next year, the Park and Recreation Department continued operating the center due to a lack of interest by the Chamber to continue to fund operations.

Visitations at the current center have continued to drop. Before the city can consider final action on the sale, trade or lease of the property, the commission must hold a public hearing and allow at least 15 days notice to the public.