Cascade County and Great Falls fight over board of health composition

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The Cascade County Commission will continue its battle with the City of Great Falls Commission over the composition of a “governing body” to oversee the city and county board of health.

At Tuesday’s county commission meeting, commissioners rejected a proposal of the municipal commission as to the composition of the governing body.

The city’s proposed amendment would have created a permanent governing body consisting of two county commissioners and a city commissioner, all of whom would be voting members.

Under the current interim agreement, the body consists of the three county commissioners and a city representative who is not a voting member. This interim agreement expires on June 30.

The county specifically disagrees with a member of the city commission having the right to vote as part of the body.

The city and county are currently in litigation over this. The county commission’s vote on Tuesday will allow this litigation to continue and extend the temporary agreement through Dec. 31, 2022.

In an emergency, the governing body would have the power to alter decisions made by the Board of Health.

Cascade County Commissioner Joe Briggs said while the issue in question is the governing body, it is part of a larger tax issue that has been a dispute between the two commissions for many years.

The original city and county agreement, developed in 1975, was designed for the city and county to equally share expenses for the Cascade City-County Health Department (CCHD), Briggs said. He said the city froze his contribution somewhere along the line. Today, Briggs said, the city contributes $250,000 a year to CCHD, while the county contributes $1.58 million.

Briggs said 24,000 people living outside of Great Falls city limits pay $63 a year to subsidize a service for which city residents pay only $4 a year, even though city residents are by far the most frequent visitors to the CCHD.

“It’s an inequity that I don’t think should stand,” Briggs said. He added that he had spent many years trying to have a meaningful conversation with the city on the issue, to no avail.

Marijuana Tax

The Commission also passed two resolutions on Tuesday that will allow the public to vote in November on a 3% tax on medical and non-medical marijuana in Cascade County. The local options tax is the maximum allowed under Bill 701. The public would vote on the tax in the November ballot.

Tax allowances, cancellation

Two projects will receive tax abatements after Tuesday’s meeting: Starry Night Hospitality’s $5.8 million renovation of the former Greystone Inn on Central Avenue downtown and the $50-60 million project for the Great Falls Clinic at 3010 15th Ave. S.

Brett Doney of the Great Falls Development Authority spoke in favor of both cuts. Entity taxes will increase by 20% per year for five years until they are fully taxed in the sixth year.

The Board also approved a $74,000 tax waiver for real estate, personal property, and mobile homes, primarily for empty and abandoned mobile homes.

Nepotism allegations

During the public comment portion of the meeting, half a dozen people approached the committee asking it to consider removing Elections Administrator Rina Fontana-Moore from the Elections Administration when she is on the ballot. They also expressed concern that members of Fontana-Moore’s family helped collect ballots when Fontana-Moore is up for election.

Cascade County Assistant Attorney General Carey Ann Haight did not immediately return an email seeking comment Tuesday afternoon.

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