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Entries in Bitterroot Economic Development (3)


Ravalli Fair more than fun as campaign starts for fairgrounds improvements

Dennis Bragg photo(HAMILTON)- Ravalli County Fair Board members are busy not only helping to run the fair this week, but promoting a plan that could change the entire financial structure of the fairgrounds. 

But major improvements, and even free fair admission, all depend on voters. 

Earlier this month, the Fair Board convinced Ravalli County commissioners to place a mill levy on the November ballot as a way of financing a long-range plan for the fairgrounds. And this week is a prime chance to explain that idea.

With another fair underway, the Ravalli County Fair Board is working to explain the plan for the on-going mill levy, which would replace the year-to-year funding through the county. The levy, at a mill rate of 5, would generate about $400,000 per year. 

The levy would cost about $20-dollars per year on a $300,000 house. And to offset that expense, the fair board wants to move to a "free gate" or no admission at future fairs. For regular fairgoers that could more than offset the cost of the levy.

"The board is committed to going to a free gate if the mill levy passes," explains RAN Pigman, Vice Chair of the Ravalli County Fair Board. "And a great part of the mill levy is help make up for that. Because the gate of the fair is the single-largest revenue stream for the fairgrounds. And then of course the other would be the taxes we presently get from the county, which would probably get re-allocated. So we have to look to be stable. We have to look at what it takes to not only maintain where we are but be able to make the necessary improvements we'd like to make over the next few years."

And it's not just upgrading the grounds for the fair, which is already winning state awards. There's also hope to maximize year around use, creating an economic benefit for the Bitterroot. 


Stevensville chips in to save Bitterroot rail line

Stevensville Mayor Gene Mim Mack says use of tax increment funds will allow money to be paid back over time(STEVENSVILLE)- The Stevensville Town Council will dig into tax increment funds to come up with the money to help keep freight rail service running up the Bitterroot Valley.

Local governments in Ravalli County have been working to assemble funding to help make up the difference of what shippers are able to spend using the Montana Rail Link line this year. MRL is agreeing to keep the line in place if it has the combination of business and government commitments.

Ravalli County and Hamilton already agreed to fund the shortfall, putting all the attention on the Stevensville Town Council.

Wednesday night the council initially discussed contributing 15-thousand dollars, which is half what county commissioners had been hoping for. But after hearing expressions of support for the plan, and the importance of rail service to the town’s economy, the council voted to up the contribution to 20-thousand dollars.

“But basically those funds are going to come from our tax increment finance district, which will benefit directly from the use of the rail line," explains Mayor Gene Mim Mack. "So it’s basically the users of the district paying back these funds, over a probably 10-year period out of their tax revenues that they pay. So it’s a really good way to allow the funds to be spent. But the direct beneficiaries of those will pay them back.”  

Ravalli County commissioners will meet Thursday morning to discuss Stevensville’s contribution and whether they can finalize the county’s share of the 62-thousand dollar package. 


Ravalli County approves major economic initiative

Matt Kanenwisher hopes the StEP approach can create new jobs for the Bitterroot(HAMILTON)- Ravalli County commissioners are giving their stamp of approval to a major economic planning initiative that is being billed as the largest in the county’s history.

County commissioners hope the Strategic Economic Plan will better position the Bitterroot to take advantage of new jobs and economic growth in what is seen as more competitive times ahead.

The StEP project will analyze the county’s economic, industrial and business history and then look at ways to build on those strengths, as well as finding new business development areas to pursue in the years to come. Commissioner Matt Kanenwisher says the project will take a complete inventory of Ravalli County’s private industry, public infrastructure like roads and utilities, and ways to utilize the Bitterroot’s natural resources. It will also identify obstacles to growth for some of the key segments of the Ravalli business market.

“The point of this data gathering and validation is, of course, to facilitate the creation of new jobs,” explains Kanenwisher.

Monday, commissioners approved the StEP concept, and approved the first action in the process, which is setting up a 9-person steering committee to get the ball rolling. That panel will include two of the county commissioners, the county’s planning department administrator, the executive director of the Ravalli County Economic Development Authority and five citizens.

The steering committee will help define the scope of the work, define some of the major business and industry areas to focus on and set up the process for gathering more information.

Kanenwisher says the StEP project has three objectives; to identify “strengths and functional clusters within the local economy”, establish ways to better utilize the county’s “abundant natural resources” and set goals for future economic development projects.

People interested in serving on the steering committee should contact the Ravalli County commissioners’ office.