Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Thanks to Commission Candidates! Update from Monday's City Commission Meeting, Upcoming Meetings


I'd like to thank and congratulate all of the candidates who ran for the Helena City Commission in this years election! Each brought forth new ideas. All demonstrated that they were ready and would being willing to serve our community!  
The Helena City Commission had a very productive meeting this Monday. This included advancing a railroad quiet zone, approving a curbside recycling agreement, a bid award for a major "Westside" sewer project, allowing capital projects is the streets utility, and the first of two votes to eliminate the transfer station policy charging permit holders for use of their public facility. Details follow below. 

The Helena City Commission will join East Helena and the Lewis & Clark County Commission in meeting with the School Board and School District One this Thursday at 1pm at the Montana School Board Offices at 863 Great Northern Boulevard. I hope to see the City work with the School District on an ongoing basis to reduce infrastructure costs and implement Helena's Growth Policy as was outlined here in the Helena Independent Record. One important area is transportation.  For example, exploring expansion of the Livingston and Montana Intersection at the Helena High parking lot could better address safety, congestion and local access decades ahead of restructuring "Malfunction Junction" at a much lower cost (and without closing Helena Avenue!). Such projects are very complicated and should not be conditioned on potential school bond elections year to year.   

The Transportation Coordination Committee has a very important meeting next Tuesday (November 10th) at 3pm at the City-County Building to prioritize secondary highway funds in the Helena area. This body should formally allocate the current reserve of these funds and budget through at least fiscal year 2017 to get important safety projects moving. This post has more details and will be updated later this week. 
  • City of Helena priorities for this fund include safety and traffic improvements to Benton and Henderson between Custer and Euclid as well as re-construction of section of 6th and 11th.
  • The City explored using urban funds for the South Helena Gateway project, but will instead use available general funds due to the low cost of the project, community concerns raised over safety in the area, and staff capacity to advance the project in house.  

Please let me know if you have any comments or questions. 

Thank you very much, it is an honor to serve!


Matt E

Matthew Elsaesser, Commissioner
City of Helena, Montana, USA
406.431.0815 / 59624-321

Full agenda and materials for Monday's meeting linked here,  highlights include the following:
  • Railroad Quiet Zone: The advancement of an engineering design and construction management contract to establish Helena's railroad quiet zone. A quiet zone will improve safety at crossing and thereby eliminate the requirement that railroad engineers sound their horns at every crossing. Note:  Engineers will still be allowed to sounds train horns as needed for safety. Most improvements will be as simple as installing medians. The directional horns at National will be louder at the crossing, but not travel across town as they do now due to the Doppler Effect and approach. The City and MRL should work together to install a removable median at Roberts.  [A previous Helena quiet zone study is linked here
    • The contract agreement passed 4-1. Four residents spoke in favor of the measure as important to their ability to sleep and quality of life. One resident opposed.
  • Curbside Recycling Agreement: A curbside recycling agreement between the City of Helena and Helena Recycling which I write about hereNote: Monday's agreement, which may be renewed through 2022, needs to be amended to ensure once a month collection is allowed within one year. This provision was advanced during the negotiation process over the last few months, but is not yet included or referenced in Monday's materials. I discuss the importance of this option here, mainly that one a month collection will be more affordable and green for some residents.
    • Three amendments were passed to allow and encourage the establishment of a once a month recycling collection option and cost savings after 1000 customers. No specific price or timeline was set for the once a month option, but provisions were added to require affirmative commission approval if such an option is not established within two years.
  • Transfer Station Trip Policy: The first of two votes to rescind the misguided Transfer Station policy to charge permit holding residents for using the transfer station on a per trip basis. More details regarding this policy here.Note: The policy initially proposed to the city commission included ZERO free trips for tax paying residents. The commissions alternative proposal ensured 30 free visits, allows for diversion of heavy construction material that otherwise can damage equipment, creates an annual House Hazardous Waste collection event, and covers the cost of tire and electronics recycling for permit holders. 
    • First passage was approved 5-0 as part of the consent agenda.
    • Note: This policy casts further doubts on the validity of the "Solid Waste System Efficiency Study," which also recommended suspending compost operations at the transfer station and landfill. When the commission instead amended the budget to recognize tipping fee revenue for the program, it was discovered that this program actually saves money for tax payers and our public solid waste and recycling system.
  • Modification of the City's Street Utility Assessment to allow for the reconstruction of roads and other capital projects. Note:  This is a very important provision for the maintenance and improved safety of Helena's streets. It includes provisions for transparency in city capital projects. 
      • Final passage of the modification to this ordinance passed 5-0.  This decision enables to use of reserve funds for trail maintenance, pedestrian safety, reconstruction of local roadways, and at least $150,000 set aside for safety features around rail intersections that also help establish a railroad quiet zone.
  • ALSO:
    • Westside Infrastructure & Annexations: 
      • A $300,000+ bid was awarded to install sewer lines that will connect seven properties with failing septic systems on Cannon Street in Helena's "Westside." The project will include running sewer pipes to the property lines of twenty-three properties total. A reimbursement arrangement for properties connecting to the sewer main will be established at an upcoming meeting. 
      • Note: Projects of this scale and a timeline that allows residents to connect as needed or by their choice is a more appropriate approach for infrastructure in the Westside. Most residents in this area already pay for City fire protection, are close to existing schools, and are not driving establish addition water and sewer systems that compete with Helena for public funds. The City should be more focused to the North and other areas with in the Urban Services Area Boundary outlined by the Growth Policy to prevent a future situations similar to the Westside. [New Zoning designations are also needed and would help the City meet its' growth policy goals.]