Sidney Chamber of Commerce’s Government Affairs committee met at city hall Wednesday, Aug. 14. Here are some highlights of the discussion had by committee members.
1. State Rep. Joel Krautter recently returned from the National Conference of State Legislatures in Nashville, Tennessee. Thirteen Legislators from Montana attended the conference, where Krautter said they discussed things like small communities being left behind, capital for agriculture and small businesses, investments in infrastructure and broadband access - which has become essential for rural communities to attract and retain population.
2. Bill Vander Weele, executive director of Sidney Chamber, reported another sidewalk sale will be held downtown on Saturday, Aug. 24. Also coming up for Sidney is the Montana Tavern Association state convention, held Sept. 8-11. Vander Weele said they expected between 250-350 people.
3. The meeting hit a serious note with the discussion of a growing drug epidemic in Montana and specifically for Richland County. Sidney Mayor Rick Norby, Fairview Mayor Brian Bieber, city clerk/treasurer Jessica Redfield, city council member Tami Christensen, Vander Weele, Krautter and Richland County Commissioner Shane Gorder decided to create a committee dedicated to communitiy awareness and action against drug use.
“Once the oil boom left, people assumed drugs left too,” Norby said. “That’s not the case. I don’t want to create ‘the sky is falling’ type attitude, but I do believe people should know. To me, that’s alarming and concerning. And it’s getting worse.”
The committee wanted to reach out to Sidney Police Department, Fairview Police Department, Richland County Sheriff’s Office and other committees for representation on the forming drug task force. Gorder recommended asking Sidney High School student council for representation too, as well as coaches.
4. Commissioner Gorder said the commission is assisting Fairview with a full street repair in front of Fairview school. The full design and cost is pending Interstate Engineering at this time. Also happening at the commission is work with the Richland County Fair Board, where a master plan for the fairgrounds is being developed for long-term campus improvements.
Gorder will be traveling to Great Falls for the Montana Association of Counties (MACo) Sept. 23-26 and will be officially named president of MACo.
5. Fairview Mayor Brian Bieber reported to the committee that a recent Sidney and Williston Herald article about Fairview residents losing city services was concerning for him as mayor.
“This has been going on for three years,” Bieber said. “We started a street maintenance district in Fairview so we can address some of the issues with our streets. We have no money and there was no plan put in place for anything. We started looking at the street improvement district and realized that we have streets that were closed in 1953 and were never reopened. After the first boom came through, they developed that area… We’ve been maintaining streets we no longer owned and haven’t since 1953. We’re just asking the residents to dedicate them back. It doesn’t change anything. We’re not gaining any property. We’re not taking anything away from anybody. The rumors up there are they’re going to have to move their trees, move their fences, their houses don’t meet compliance, and none of that is true. We just need to get our streets dedicated back and we have to do it all in one lump sum… We put a deadline on it because we’ve been asking them for three years to dedicate them back. As of Oct. 1, we’re going to have to pull city services for that area.”
6. Mayor Bieber touched on the declining numbers of Fairview’s Old Timers Festival, which he said seems to be dying a little more each year. Bieber said bar owners told him they can do better on a typical Friday night than they can during festival. The mayor asked for ideas on how to get transportation to and from for people, as risks of drinking and driving may be detering some people from attending. With several ideas for buses and shuttles offered, Bieber said he would take those back to the festival committee.
7. Government Affairs committee discussed the train in Veterans Park, which has fallen into a state of disrepair over the years. Mayor Norby said the city doesn’t have the money in the budget to tend to it, with council member Christensen saying while she believed the train to be an important piece of history, they had other things to spend money on first.
Norby said he was sad to see the train in decay and is hoping someone else can step in with ideas or funding to move or repair the train.