The Lewis and Clark County Public Works Department maintains approximately 550 miles of roads. County tax dollars pay for maintenance on high traffic roads or those that collect traffic from large areas. But as with many large, primarily rural Montana counties, there is not enough funding to maintain all public roads, many of which only benefit a few properties. One option for road and other public works improvements and maintenance is to create a Rural Improvement District (RID). An RID is a legal taxing authority that can raise funds in specific areas for specific improvements and on-going maintenance for those improvements.
RIDs are most often initiated by citizens in need of road upgrades, better road maintenance, or other services. The County prefers a citizen-led approach to ensure support, but also to allow residents to engage in and lead the effort. To begin the process, the County requires a petition, detailing the proposed district, supported by a minimum of 60% of the affected property owners. Once received, County staff develop a ‘Resolution of Intention to Create’ the RID. This resolution specifies the boundaries of the proposed RID, the services included, and the tax assessment for each benefitting property owner. Once passed by the Board of County Commissioners, notice is published and copies of the notice are mailed to all affected property owners, allowing a period of protest and the opportunity for public hearing and testimony. If protest from over 50% of property owners is received, the process halts; otherwise, the RID is created.
At this point the County begins collecting RID payments, via property taxes, that are entered into a separate account designated only for payment of services identified in the RID’s resolution.
RIDs can be similar in function to an HOA; however, the County provides oversight through tax assessment and the coordination of services. Designated property owners within each RID are responsible for collaborating with the County to monitor funds and plan for work.
Rural growth within Lewis and Clark County, primarily across the Helena Valley, has prompted a huge surge in the development of Rural Improvement Districts. What began as an innovative way to provide road improvements and maintenance to County residents has grown into a program all of its own. Currently, Lewis and Clark County manages over 100 RIDs. These include districts for road improvements and maintenance, fire suppression, lighting, parks, flood mitigation, and more.
With the current population density and projected growth, the Public Works Department has invested in two new employee positions to manage the program. Jessica Makus, Special Districts Program Coordinator, and Calob Marquis, Rural Improvement District Construction Coordinator, have come on board to manage existing RIDs and assist the public with the development of new RIDs. They join long-time County employee, Jesse Whitford, in what has become a new team working to improve services to residents.
With this additional capacity, the goals are to provide better service to existing RIDs, improve public outreach, update policies for more efficient management, and develop long-term maintenance plans for RIDs moving forward. Long-term planning will enable staff to work with residents on comprehensive maintenance schedules to look at the lifetime of the improvements, rather than just focusing on today’s needs. This approach will enable the County to better coordinate construction projects and services such as plowing and grading, efforts that will save both time and money.
More information on RIDs can be found online at https://www.lccountymt.gov/cdp/special-districts.html