Monday, August 08, 2016


The present mayor of the Town of Valier, Montana, has a strong sense of order and enough focus and drive to channel that into clarifying the practices of the town, which in the past have been laissez faire and catch-as-catch-can, with inconsistencies and inequities that damage the morale of the community.  It will take a little time to find and correct problems like old connections between properties or lost locations.

I missed the first reading of this new set of regulations, so I’m putting my responses from independently reading here on my blog.  I’ll give the council copies.  It may be that there was already discussion that addressed these ideas, so I’ll have to catch up.

I’m posting this to my blog early in the day, and after the town meeting this evening, I’ll add an account.


1.  What is the relationship between these ordinances and the county and state ordinances?  Which ones are specific to this particular village?  Why don’t the formal national building codes cover most things so that it would only be necessary to refer to that code rather than specify so much?

2.  The money issue is primary to many of us because Valier has always been a small town with older housing stock where low income, retired people can find a place to live.  The state has made this difficult because of passing so many infrastructure requirements that are expensive for the town as a whole, though the surrounding service areas use town amenities without paying town taxes.  Also, this — like other small Highline towns — is struggling with diminishing after a boom, then expecting a new boom which didn’t materialize, leaving people jobless and maybe overextended.

Many of these ordinances impose costs, some of which are basic to health and safety but others of which are more cosmetic.  There is a variety of standards among the citizens, but always an impulse to make things “look nice.”  Yet this is a rural town with blocks of grain bins and some pretty old buildings.  Short of buying up decayed property so as to own and destroy it, it’s hard to see how simply passing laws will make life better.  Anyway, removing structures costs money.

The dynamic of attaching penalties and costs which — if not paid — are added to one’s taxes, begins to seem medieval, since it paves the way for seizure and auction not just by the county itself but by predatory insurance and investment entities like “Sunrise.”  Communities have traditionally — with good reason — refused to sell sewer and water infrastructure to private businesses because out of greed they raise prices and shut off services without justification.  If the town does that, it amounts to the same thing.

When the water meters were installed, the prediction was that people would not be able to afford to water their yards and that some would soon stop maintaining pretty green lawns.  This has come true.  In a high growth year like this one, there was a lot of vegetation that translated into tall dry growth.  This a safety issue and must be addressed, but to demand pretty yards to satisfy the desire of some to seem admirable is not justified.

Let me address the money issue as a private person, esp. the regulations about owners working on their own systems.  I find that it’s nearly impossible to find qualified, insured, and willing plumbers to work on an old house.  The younger people only work on clean new construction and only know how to do prescribed repeat jobs.  This old housing has some pretty “creative” water and sewer, difficult to work with and miserable to access.  

I’m told that replacing the Oznaberg sewer and lead water piping remaining on my system will cost $1,000 or more, assuming it doesn’t go under the foundation.  I already paid $350 for a “plumber” from Conrad to use his big rotorooter with no results.  In fact, AFTERWARDS, I was told he probably damaged the osnaberg.  However, when the town crew did necessary trenchwork they cut and removed a major root from the blue spruce in front of my house.  It now begins to lean.  I expect this winter it may fall, imposing more costs.  My income is severely limited because I am retired and have always worked low pay jobs, including ten years as a minister. 

Regardless of one’s wealth or insurance, old people stand one broken pelvis, stroke or cancer from bankruptcy.  That means home loss.  The homestead law protects it from being seized for debt, except for taxes.  The vultures ask for printouts of the vulnerable every year.  The more I have to pay for help (assuming it can be found), the more vulnerable I am.  The older I get, the less I can do myself.

3.  Enforcement is another problem.  The town has no law enforcement officers but contracts with the county sheriff.  They are already stretched thin to respond to the drug and disorder forces that seem to be everywhere, even in the most respectable small towns.  Following up on fines for noisy dogs or high grass would not seem to be a priority.  Recent events also turned up a recurrent split between county priorities and responses and town relationship to the same, this time over the issue of burning permits: field burning versus home firepits.

4.  We are in an awkward transition between past customs and present practice.  For instance, one used to pay a boy with a push mower to mow the lawn.  Now it will be a retired farmer on a riding mower who expects more money.  A yard that is not flat lawn can’t really be mowed this way.  My own yard has trees with roots on the surface that interfere even with a riding mower, so I cut the grass with a string trimmer, but I’m getting old.  The worst weeds are alfalfa which the trimmer won’t cut.  One must use hand clippers.  This is just a small example, but add a lot of them together and they are a big pain in the butt.

The election this fall promises to be explosive with many accusations and realignments.  It’s good to look at these basic town functions.  We’ve had some temper-fraying times and at least one true scandal.  Heads up.


I had intended to post notes from the Town Council meeting, but there was not a quorum so there was no meeting.  Reps of the library board had come to consult about whether to ask for bids for the library addition.  They have nearly enough money, but the economic horizon is looking murky and they're thinking maybe they'd better move.  The mayor agreed but felt they were read to ask for bids, which would help decide how to proceed.

The sheriff arrived on his motorcycle at the end of the meeting, but I left before anything was said.

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