Columbia Falls ‘Cleans Up’ City Laws

By Beacon Staff

COLUMBIA FALLS – According to the municipal code in Columbia Falls, the drinking age is 19 and if you hitch your horse and leave it unattended, your four-legged friend risks impoundment. Of course, according to state and federal laws, the drinking age is 21 and public horse hitching hasn’t really been an issue since municipal code 6.09.010 was last updated in 1948.

Either way, Columbia Falls City Manager Susan Nicosia said it’s time to “clean up” the city code, ensuring that all laws are aligned with state and federal rules and duplicate ones are deleted. On Feb. 6, during a three-hour council meeting, Nicosia and City Attorney Justin Breck walked the board through some of the possible changes and updates that needed to be made.

“There are many codes that are either outdated or needed to be brought up to date with state and federal law,” Nicosia said. “It’s one of those things every town needs to do.”

Some of the laws reviewed by the council are in need of clarification. For example, parts of the nearly 500-page city municipal code refer to a city “traffic engineer,” although no such position has ever been created. Other laws have been deemed duplicates or antiquated, including 6.12.010, which states, “It is unlawful for chickens, ducks, geese, turkeys, or other barnyard fowl to run at large within the corporate limits of the city.” The 1909 law goes on to state that anyone who allows such animals to rampage through the streets of Columbia Falls will be charged with a misdemeanor and fined anywhere from $1 to $5.

Nicosia said every few years a town must codify its laws. Columbia Falls had been planning to update its law books since last year, but before reprinting the rulebook, it decided to have the Municipal Code Corporation, based in Florida, review the current codes. Legal experts were able to comb through the document and compare it to state and federal laws that make some local rules unnecessary. Nicosia said having the review outsourced cost the city $2,360.

“We knew our laws needed to be updated, but couldn’t go through all of this stuff,” she said. “We knew they could do it much quicker and be more thorough.”

The final report issued to the city included 100 pages of suggested changes the city should make. Those suggestions were presented to the council on Feb. 6 and Mayor Don Barnhart said none of them were surprising, adding that he is familiar with some unusual city laws: “Just for fun, I sometimes sit down and read (the codes),” he said.

In the next few weeks, Barnhart said Nicosia and the city attorney will decide which laws should be changed and the council will then vote on an ordinance. He also said the process will allow the city to change or update some codes to address new issues, including animal control and water fees. Those changes won’t be made until a public meeting is held and will be voted on by the council. Barnhart said he hoped the entire process of updating the city code would be done by spring.