Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Alderman Jerry Wemple (right) asks a question of Pat Davies, lead commtercial designer for Sanderson Stewart, during Davies’ presentation on the proposed Shopko location at the Jan. 6 meeting of the Hardin City Council.

Shopko plat approved despite disagreements

Morissette says 4X increase on taxes could have been averted with better notification

The Hardin City Council approved the plat recommendations from the City-County Planning Board on the planned Shopko store during its Jan. 6 meeting. The store is set to be built in the spring.

The approval came in spite of a disagreement between City Planner Cal Cumin and Tim Gilmore, director of leasing and retail relations for COMVEST Properties, a private insurance firm representing Shopko. Gilmore, who had been present on the phone during two planning board meetings dealing with the store, traveled from Mississippi to Montana to attend the council meeting.

Also present were Pat Davies and Jacob Brotzler of Sanderson Stewart, the land developer for the project.

According to Cumin, the main source of disagreement was Gilmore’s insistence that Shopko – situated on land under the care of Joel Lammers – would only install a 60-foot right-of-way for the store’s lot on the south side of the building. The plat, he said, shows the right-of-way being installed in two lots on that side – facing Center Avenue – rather than one.

The Shopko store is planned for construction in a lot with an area of 3.55 acres. The total land in care of Joel Lammers – owned by the Freda Lammers Revocable Living Trust – has a gross area of 31.3 acres.

“When they submitted their application package, they submitted the right-of-way across the south side of both lots,” Cumin said. “They couldn’t change it at the council meeting. They tried to, but they couldn’t.”

Adam Mitchell, development manager for COMVEST who also attended the meeting, said the issue was the result of some confusion among the company and city officials.

“The proposal was for COMVEST Properties to basically pay for the...extension for the 3.55 acres we would be buying,” Mitchell said. “We technically only have that one piece under contract. We couldn’t speak for the Lammers.”

The plat awaits Joel Lammers’ signature in order to be finalized.

Morissette hit with 4X tax increase

Hardin property owner Dick Morissette had a rather unpleasant surprise when he opened his county tax statement at the end of October and found out the bill for his 20 acres had increased by nearly 420 percent. He owns two acres that are zoned commercial and 18 zoned agriculture.

The reason for the increase was the city’s installation of a street maintenance district in the area.

Morissette was previously assessed an estimated $20,000 more than usual in January 2013 after one of his lots was platted as five while situated on the site of a special improvement district. City Attorney Robert Snively explained during the Jan. 20, 2013 city council meeting that the five townhouses present on one of Morissette’s lots each sat on their own lot, according to how the property was divided in 1987.

“Last year’s tax bill totaled...about $1,600,” Morissette said at the present meeting. “This year, it is $8,300. That is absolutely unreasonable.”

City Attorney Robert Snively said Morissette’s tax bill couldn’t be reassessed, as it would require the entire city to be reassessed by extension. Street maintenance fees, he said, are set in August according to state statute and can’t be changed for the year.

Morissette said because he wasn’t given any form of direct notification – such as a letter – he requested the fee be recalculated and the cost not placed so heavily on business owners. He has also owned property in California, Wyoming, Oregon and Florida, who he said all managed to give him notice of such tax increases.

Notice of the increases did run in the Big Horn County News, a form of notification Snively said was correct according to state statute. Morissette countered by saying the newspaper method was too indirect a form of communication on this issue.

“It may be legal, but it’s not moral,” he said of the fee increase. “Every other location, including Montana – I’ve owned property in Lake County – I’ve always received some sort of notice.”

“Are you asking for special treatment?” Mayor Jack Lane asked.

“You singled me out by not notifying me,” Morissette answered, “so I’m asking you to correct it.”

Snively told council members that sending out letters to property owners would place the city on legally problematic ground, on top of the cost of sending the letters – many of which he said would be returned due to address changes.

“You can’t treat an out-of-town owner differently than an in-town owner,” he said. “I live out of town, so are you going to treat me differently than if I lived in the city limits? Where do you draw the distinctions?”

Morissette said if the city could just send him a legal advertisement from the paper for the cost of “an envelope and a postage stamp” it would save him from future financial problems. Lane said the city would welcome Morissette’s input in future discussions on property assessments and that his comments were duly noted.

The next city council meeting is scheduled for Jan. 20.