Intergovernmental conflict exemplifies the desire for freedom on the one hand, and the desire for control on the other. The last time intergovernmental conflict reared its head, the battle over who controlled the area outside of the City of Whitefish was rolled out in years long litigation. What seemed obvious to most of us — that areas outside of city limits are controlled by the county — required a trip to the Supreme Court to rein in the City of Whitefish. This type of control-creep is again at issue in the Flathead.
Cities control the destiny of areas outside their boundaries through very limited means. One way Kalispell can control the fate of Evergreen is through its sewage treatment. When Kalispell decided to build an enormous sewage treatment facility bigger than it would ever need, Evergreen was endeavoring to build its own facility. Kalispell offered Evergreen a “great deal:” it would dedicate a portion of the sewage treatment facility to Evergreen for its users. For Kalispell, this deal offloaded the cost of the new plant when it had overhead it couldn’t meet without outside-of-Kalispell users. For Evergreen, building a new sewage treatment plant would have caused an untenable increase in sewage rates for Evergreen residents, so using some of Kalispell’s excess capacity was the most cost-conscious option for Evergreen. However, Evergreen warned Kalispell of its concerns that Kalispell would use the sewage agreement to hamstring growth in Evergreen. When I was mayor, the majority of the council agreed it is wrong for government to use agreements to obtain control over areas outside city limits, so Kalispell used the sewage agreement only as a mechanism to offset the enormous costs of the sewage treatment plant. The times have changed.
Evergreen wants to change its Sewer District boundaries to accommodate new growth. Evergreen doesn’t need more capacity; it doesn’t use the total amount it currently has reserved and pays for. But the boundaries were drawn at a time when Evergreen tried to predict where growth goes. Instead, the growth has gone (as it tends to do) where developers wish it to go. Evergreen has large tract residential lots with septic systems that will never use the sewer. So, Evergreen wants to eliminate those tracts and move the boundary lines to areas developers wish to develop. This causes zero harm to Kalispell residents as its fee offset from Evergreen remains the same. Yet, Kalispell has indicated it doesn’t want to accommodate Evergreen because it wants to force development in Kalispell city limits. Notwithstanding the obvious power grab, Evergreen developers aren’t the same as Kalispell developers. Evergreen offers decreased regulation and increased large tract development opportunity that is unavailable in Kalispell. Kalispell’s desire to control Evergreen’s fate reflects the same greed and government overreach we experienced with the Whitefish litigation. Like Whitefish, Kalispell should be careful what it wishes for. Should Kalispell refuse Evergreen’s reasonable request, Evergreen should embark on alternatives to its agreement with Kalispell.
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