Why doesn’t Bigfork just incorporate? It’s a question asked across the Flathead Valley, and answered repeatedly here with a “we can’t afford it” or “we don’t want it.” Now, with the encouragement of the Bigfork Steering Committee, Flathead County Commissioner Joe Brenneman is pursuing another option.
“One of the problems right now,” Brenneman said, “is there’s nothing between incorporation and non-incorporation.” This third option would be the creation of a village or township led by an elected council.
Right now the Bigfork community depends on Flathead County to provide police protection, plowing and garbage removal. The county also has an advisory role when it comes to planning and development in the community of Bigfork.
Currently, a proposed development or zone-change request goes before the Bigfork Land Use Advisory Committee (BLUAC), which gives a thumbs up or down to a recommendation. From there, the proposal goes to the Flathead County Planning Board, which weighs in with their recommendation. Finally, the proposal goes before the county commissioners, who make the final decision. With a township, Brenneman says a proposal would be looked at by the staff at the planning department, then go before a Bigfork town council. If the council says no, it dies right there. If it’s approved, then it goes on to county commissioners for final approval.
“The developer would know right then what to do,” Brenneman said, and would be able to make changes if applicable. The same process would hold true for zone changes.
For community services like police protection, emergency services and snow removal, the council would have the authority to create an area-specific tax to pay for desired services. In an essay on the idea, Commissioner Brenneman wrote: “If, for example, they wanted increased law enforcement presence the village/township council, with approval by the commissioners, would levy sufficient tax to pay for the level of increased law enforcement presence. ”
The idea is still in the discovery phase. Brenneman is looking toward the state Legislature to find a senator willing to explore the feasibility and legality of creating a village or township.
“This is just for providing options for communities,” Brenneman said.
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