Clearly, this wasn’t the plan.
As the Frenchtown Rural Fire District called its Monday night Fire Board meeting to order, more than 70 people filled the hall, joined by conspicuous television news reporters. Many in attendance, including residents and firefighters, were concerned about a controversial proposal that would recommend impact fees in Frenchtown in order to cover the rising costs of firefighting. Whether or not the recommended fees were approved would be contingent, some observers said, on whether or not two new board members—both alleged foes of impact fees—were sworn in that night.
Just minutes after Board Chairman Tom Mahlum began the meeting, however, the board decided to table all business and say goodnight.
According to Mahlum, Missoula County had not yet validated the recent election results, so the Fire Board could not swear in the new board members. After stammering for several minutes with fellow board members about how and when to reconsider the night’s agenda—as the audience stared in silence—Mahlum announced that the panel would reconvene May 21 at 7:00 p.m.
The slightly muffled announcement brought deflated looks and confusion in the crowd.
“Sure, they shut ’er down,” a boots-and-denim-wearing middle-aged man said to his two friends as they talked after the meeting.
Some participants suspected the board cancelled the meeting because it wants to kill the impact fee idea—which has been supported by Frenchtown Rural Fire District Chief Scott Waldron, who believes fees are necessary to buy equipment and otherwise fight increasingly costly fires in the ever-growing region.
The two new board members, Glenn Green and Ray Winn, could potentially provide the necessary votes to kill the matter.
Others said the board couldn’t approve impact fees in any event, because the County must approve such fees—not the Fire Board.
As a local TV newsman began combing the room for an interview, Waldron headed out a side door. Referring to the election validation for the new board members, Waldron said, “It’s out of our hands now. It’s in [County Clerk and Recorder] Vickie Zeier’s hands now.”
“The impact fees are really a moot point,” Mahlum said on his way out the east door. “We can’t even adopt them, it’s all up to the County.” He said he expects the item will be tabled again when it’s brought up at the next meeting.