Verbal sparring continues over three-mile limit

Jason Ferguson

“Give it up.”
That is the message Custer County Commissioner Mark Hartman said was being delivered to towns in Custer County via his introduction of a county resolution that if passed would prohibit directing discretionary funds from the county to municipalities that maintain extraterritorial jurisdiction within Custer County.
The “it” in this case is the aforementioned three-mile extraterritorial platting jurisdiction. State law affords to towns up to three miles of platting jurisdiction outside of the town’s limits, a layer of government Hartman said he feels is unnecessary and a burden on county property owners, the county and even the City of Custer, even if the city’s mayor, council and planning administrator don’t see it that way.
At the March 30 meeting of the Custer County Commission the proposed resolution was addressed again after having been tabledat the commission’s March 9 meeting so the city’s proposed changes to the jurisdictional area could be brought forward. The proposed changes didn’t sway Hartman, however, as he made a motion to approve the resolution, but eventually saw it fail by a 3-2 vote, with him and Travis Bies voting in favor of the resolution and Mike Linde and Craig Hindle voting against. Commission chairman Jim Lintz cast the deciding vote against the resolution.
“I don’t think we need to threaten the city to do this,” Lintz said.
“It’s not a threat,” Hartman said.
Hartman began the discussion on the resolution by asking City of Custer Mayor Bob Brown, who was in attendance, what the benefit was to the city or any city residents to have the city allowed to control plats within three miles of city limits.
The city’s planning administrator, Tim Hartmann (different spelling, no relation to Hartman) said the three-mile area is for the city to plan for incremental growth of the city.
“So it has nothing to do with water,” Hartman said. The issue of contaminated wells and water shed from too much density in some areas has been mentioned before in the discussion.
Hartman said if the city was so concerned with water, it could form a watershed district, which he said likely everyone would support. He said the three-mile area has nothing to do with that, however, and also questioned whether or not it had anything to do with maintaining road specifications for subdivisions, pointing to Little Italy Road—and more specifically Stagecoach Crossing Subdivision—as an area where the city didn’t adhere to road specifications when it came to platting and “created a disaster” that has cost county taxpayers $80,000 in repairs.
“When I hear you say it’s for future roads and when you annex, you’ve already proven that’s not the case with the development you approved that was backwards to what you were telling us,” Hartman said. “The time you guys spend on this three mile could be so much better spent on city issues.”
Hartman said the county has a planning department that is perfectly capable of dealing with platting outside of the city, saying the county and city’s road requirements for subdivisions are largely the same.
“It’s an overreach and I’m surprised you guys even want to take it on. It’s a lot of work for you guys, it’s a lot of work for us, and if there is anyone here that has developed in the three-mile it’s wasted their time and it’s a pain in the butt. This resolution was designed to encourage you to give up the three mile,” he said. “Clearly state law allows you do to it but you don’t have to.”
Hartman also said for the city to argue the three-mile area and density has anything to do with protecting water doesn’t make sense.
“If every private piece of property within three miles (were developed) we would still be low density. We are landlocked by Forest Service, Custer State Park and topography. You’re not going to have a high density in Custer (County). If every 50-acre piece was split to five acre pieces, you’re still low density,” he said. “A watershed protection district, I think everybody would support. But this is a joke.”
Hartman also said the city likely would not annex “99 percent” of the property it has planning authority over outside of city limits.
Hartmann said he would agree to disagree with Hartman on the role the jurisdiction plays in water protection, but did agree that such protection is not specifically the responsibility of the city or the county, saying the state’s Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources has a role to play in that protection as well. He pointed out the city has had to deal with poor platting that has affected the city in the past, the Granite Heights area just east of the city limits where private wells were contaminated when allowed platting created a situation where too many septic tanks were too close to private wells, which contaminated those wells. As a result, the East Custer Sewer District was formed in 1975 and the city had to take on the waste from that district, although the district does pay the city a higher rate to do so.
 Hartmann said the city agrees having a three-mile swath of jurisdiction around the city regardless of topography, etc., is problematic and said the city has dug into the issue and looked at how it can make the jurisdiction more subjective rather than objective, which is where the new proposed map that was presented at the commission meeting derived from.
Hartman said the city was “kicking the can down the road,” saying the first joint commission meetings between the county and city regarding this topic began three years ago but the March 30 meeting was the first time the map had been presented.
Brown disagreed, saying the map had been available for a year, with Hindle agreeing, saying the proposed changes to the jurisdictional area came to the county’s planning commission and Hartman, the liaison to the county planning commission “just threw it aside.”
“The city’s planning commission has already adopted this. I don’t think they’re kicking the can down the road,” Hindle said. “They don’t even have to be here talking to us about this. By law it’s their right to have three miles. If you look at this map they’ve done a hell of a good job trying to work with the county.”
Hindle also said the resolution, if passed, could affect the county’s ability to buy the additional land for Custer County Search and Rescue (SAR) that is adjacent to the land SAR is on, partly due to cooperation from the city. Hartman said he felt that was different and didn’t fall into discretionary funding, unlike, potentially, the county helping with funding to repair West Dam. The West Dam funding has been given as an example before as funds the county could pull off the table should the resolution pass. Hindle said the city could pull the property deal for SAR off the table altogether if it so chose.
“Can you clarify for us what funds that would specifically be addressing and restricting?” Hartmann asked.
“It wouldn’t be any if the three mile is gone,” Hartman said. “At some point we have to quit fooling around. If you have a couple of areas you’re seriously going to annex, absolutely. It doesn’t have to be in the three mile. You come to (county planning director) Terri (Kester) and say here’s a map, in the next five years anything that gets developed in here we want to be involved in. It’s common sense.”
“We can only improve. I agree that arbitrary (jurisdictional) line is not really justifiable in some ways,” Hartmann said. “The city has the ability to enact what they see fit. I’m going to speak for the mayor and council and say as we look to improve upon this I don’t think that’s the route we want to take. We want to continue to negotiate and discuss and get feedback.”
Bies asked if the city’s regulations change the cost of private development, with Hartmann saying in his four and a half years as the city’s planning administrator he has never enforced a city regulation on a county-type developer, but rather mirrored and shared county regulations, working with the county’s planning office in doing so.
Linde said that’s not quite everything, however, as getting a plat approved in the three-mile area requires extra time due to having to go through the city’s planning commission and the Custer City Council.
“If you’re trying to sell a piece of ground and it takes two months to get an answer, it kills deals,” he said. “A lot of times it does make a difference.”
Linde called the proposed map changes a good start but said he doesn’t believe it’s “anywhere near where it needs to be.”
“I will just tell you I don’t like it,” Bies said of the city’s three-mile power. “I’ve never been a fan of it. I think the city should target certain areas they plan to annex in the future and leave the rest alone.”
 “I think it’s important we encourage you guys,” Hartman said. “If you can’t put it on the agenda and do something we will encourage you. I keep hearing it’s going to go away. I don’t think it’s going to go away unless something like this resolution encourages you guys. It’s a tool to encourage you guys to give it up and concentrate on your city.”
“First of all, I wouldn’t call it encouragement,” Brown said, while reiterating he only took office last July and  his administration was willing to work with the county to reduce the jurisdiction. “It’s more like blackmail with the fact there is money (potentially withheld). That’s what it is.”
Prior to the vote Hartman told the audience that his four fellow commissioners were all up for election, and after the vote he thanked Bies for his vote while intimating voters may have to be reminded how the other commissioners voted, which prompted Linde to say he doesn’t base his votes on receiving votes and Hindle to say “you’re already telling people not to vote for me” to Hartman.
“This is not a conversation to have at a commission meeting,” Bies said.
“You’re absolutely right,” Hindle responded.

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