Communities, of any size, require facilities and infrastructure to meet the citizens demands to provide services. This requires significant investment of public funds on your behalf to establish and maintain. It’s certainly not new news to hear that public infrastructure is failing across our nation and the need for these assets in critical in order to provide quality drinking water, good government services and superior education, just to name a few.
Recently, within the past 45 days, we have seen three initiatives rejected either by local representatives or voters themselves. The intent of the initiatives was to enhance the public facilities right here in our very own community. In April, Stevensville’s Town Council heard an opportunity to move Town Hall. This would have addressed the safety concerns and space requirements to better provide effective and efficient service. More recently, two bond issues were proposed to bring needed upgrades and repairs to Stevensville’s Elementary and High Schools. The goal to provide a safer, more productive learning environment. All of the aforementioned proposed projects, while they came at a cost, were orientated with the best intentions for the community and addressed todays facility problems while accommodating and planning for the inevitable growth that our community will experience.
When a new Town Hall was proposed, an unwillingness to commit funding was primarily expressed by the Town Council. Likewise, it's conceivable that taxpayers feared the burden of the school bonds on their property taxes. It’s safe to say that a trend has been established where local governments and districts have no other resource to fund increasing costs in operations and capital assets than to seek special levies and bonds.
Tax cuts, while beneficial for some, are being handed out by the State and Federal Governments. However, at the same time funding provided to local governments, schools and other districts is reduced. To complicate the problem, the demand for services is increasing while the cost of doing business out paces the funding we receive to get the job done. This formula is unsustainable and will compound the challenges we face as we look into the future.
In Stevensville, we have on the of the lowest per-capita appropriations in our general fund. In 2016 only two towns/cities spent less per capital out of their general fund than Stevensville’s $300 per person figure based on a population of 1,963. Of those 11 cities and towns, 10 of them have a population of less than 1,000 people. You can view statistics on all Montana cities and towns yourself on the Montana State University Local Government Center website. What do these figures say about our town? The citizens of Stevensville receive a tremendous bang for their buck when it comes to the service we provide from our general fund. $300 per person allows us to provide fire and police protection, parks and recreation, streets maintenance, court and legal services and the administration of governmental services. Oftentimes, when a service we provide is inadequate or doesn’t exist, it’s assumed that the town doesn’t want to do it. Rather, it’s more of a challenge for us to find the resources to accomplish the task.
My point to this discussion is not meant to be doom-and-gloom, but instead bring to light that we need to call upon our State and Federal representatives to help us in finding a solution to funding local governments and districts. Otherwise, voters can expect to see special levies and bond issues on future ballots. What’s more unsettling is that we will continue to see our facilities and infrastructure to deteriorate and the level of service provided diminish.
The issues I mentioned are not necessarily unique to Stevensville but are likely true in many communities across our great state. We’ll need to continue to collaborate and work together to find solutions that will serve us well tomorrow and provide a good quality of life and opportunity for the next generation.