Congratulations Colstrip!! We have just completed a very successful twenty years as an incorporated City. I would like to share a brief history on how we became incorporated and why.
This all began when Montana Power Company, as the operating owner of the power plants, advised the community that they would be removing themselves of any responsibility of providing services. They were planning on eliminating all of the services provided by Colstrip Community Services. This process began in 1997 and early 1998 with a reorganization of the Power Plant Administration Services. The companies initiated a program they called ‘Vision 2000’. They hired a consultant group out of California and gave them the task of reviewing their organiza-tional structure to make it more streamlined and cost efficient. As one of their Vice Presidents stated “We need to became more like Enron” (little did they know).
As all of this was unfolding, a group of residents formed its own committee and became very active in investigating the process of incorporating as a city - the benefits and the risks. The makeup of this group included Mark Stevens, Jim Ob-land, Larry Miller, Dennis Davenport, Rita Navasio, Peggy Skiles, John Jutila, Nancy Brennan and myself. We utilized the help of the Local Government Center at MSU Bozeman, the Montana League of Cities and Towns, the State of Montana’s Department of Commerce and legal advice from Gary Ryder, who continues to serve as our City Attorney. We established incorporated boundaries and success-fully incorporated with overwhelming approval from our resident voters.
The next step of the process was to establish our City Government with an election of officers. This election occurred in April 1999. The officers elected included Gale Palmer, Larry Pattison, Jim Obland and Mark Stevens as Council Members and John Williams as Mayor. Initially we hired Carol Waples as a temporary City Clerk. Our first two regular employees were Michelle Richards as City Clerk/Treasurer and John Bleth as Public Works Director. We set up offices in the old Environmental Building which now houses the Boilermakers Training Center.
To begin our government operations, we borrowed $40,000. Our first budget was a “challenge”. The words of advice I received still remain with me - “Do it right the first time”, and we did. Much of the credit goes to our City Clerk/Treasurer Michelle Richards and Public Works Director John Bleth. They developed the budget. Also, most importantly, our first City Council members that approved and adopted the first budget. We were under tremendous pressure from the power plant owners, mostly Montana Power Company. They attempted to influence that first budget . They hired an outside consultant from Helena and exerted tremendous pressure on our City Council. Our City Council stayed the course and I give them the credit of doing it right the first time. The first year’s budget was so important because it established the basis for our financial future!
I would also like to give credit and appreciation to all of our employees and volunteer firefighters over the past twenty years. Our City has been blessed with quality individuals striving to do their very best with quality service to our residents. Thank you also to our many board members that give of their time to serve our City and its residents.
Since our incorporation we have made major changes and improvements in all areas of the city’s responsibilities to our residents. Major improvements in our infrastructure system - water, sewer and streets. Major changes in our fire protection with funding and equipment improvements for our Volunteer Fire Department. Establishment and staffing of our Police Department with the recognition of being one of the safest places to live in Montana.
Even with the challenges and threats of closure of Units 1 and 2 of the power plants by 2022, we remain optimistic about our future and will continue to work in a positive manner toward any opportunity of diversification and eco-nomic development. The city’s financial health remains strong and continues to improve. The city has been in a unique situation with having the ability to levy mills less than the maximum mill levy authorized under state law. This provided us the opportunity to bank mills and then use them later to make improvements to our water infra-structure. We will be able to continue accumulating unused mills. This has provided us the opportunity to make improvements without impacting the rates to our residents. The position of our financial health is indicated by our net position. From year 2017 to 2018 our net position increased by $1,652,713 to our new total of $21,814,153. I would like to invite any resident interested to come into City Hall and review our city’s financial statements.
I would like to close out my article with an expression of appreciation to City Judge Gail Beckham. Judge Beckham will be retiring on May 1, 2019 after serving as our City Judge since January 1, 2007. We have been very fortunate to have had Judge Beckham in our service as our City Judge. Judge Beckham came to work for the city after having been a Justice of the Peace for Rosebud County for 12 years. We have appreciated her service and dedication to our city and its residents. Congratulations to you, Judge Beckham, on your retirement.