Reality Check

Using Utilities To Control Development

Disallowing growth in Evergreen will not spur growth in Kalispell

I am deeply concerned about the dialogue the city of Kalispell is currently having about the Evergreen Water and Sewer District use of the sewage treatment plant capacity it has already been allocated. Evergreen seeks to use its allocation for new development, and some members of the city council have voiced objections to this prospect. Perhaps a stroll down memory lane is in order. The city of Kalispell built a state-of-the-art sewage treatment plant in the few years prior to my tenure as mayor. The treatment plant was built to about five times the capacity it needed in the foreseeable future, and was enormously expensive. At the time, those in control of city finances believed that new growth in the city would pay for the bonds used to fund the construction. When the growth didn’t occur, we were left without a payer source for the annual bond payments. We needed more ratepayers, and needed to sell more capacity to users outside of city limits. We turned to Evergreen.

Evergreen at that time was concerned that the city was trading sewage treatment capacity for control via waivers of their protest to annexation. Indeed, Evergreen had, at one point, determined that because of the anxiety it had about the city trying annex it into the city, it would endeavor to seek bonds and grants to build its own sewage treatment plant. By view of the city growth policy at that time, its fears were founded. So, knowing the financial distress we faced in the city, coupled with Evergreen’s fears of annexation, the city council undertook the task of shrinking the growth policy boundaries to remove most (if not all) of Evergreen. (Truth be told, annexation at that time was a money loser. It cost the city more to annex property than the return generated by increased property taxes and impact fees.) Thereafter, the city began negotiating with Evergreen to allocate more capacity to Evergreen with the hope of increasing user fees and impact fees from new development in Evergreen.

Now it appears that some on the Kalispell City Council errantly believe that by restricting Evergreen’s ability to use their bargained-for capacity, it will somehow force growth to occur in the city of Kalispell. Evergreen, while abutting the city of Kalispell, is its own community and retains its own values. Disallowing growth in Evergreen will not spur growth in Kalispell. More importantly, using a utility as a mechanism of control for areas outside of city limits is shortsighted and defies conservative principles of less government, and local autonomy. The city should learn from its prior mistakes and leave Evergreen alone. Let Evergreen use its already-bargained-for capacity as it desires.