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County remains mute
to $20,000 Question?

by Karen Lyncon
For the Pathfinder
April 30, 1998

"How was the district's money spent, and how much will it get back?" These are the questions that John Sytsma, attorney for the Seeley Lake Refuse District, posed to Missoula County Management Team at a meeting on April 21st.

This issue has been on the table for the Refuse District since its meeting on September 23, 1996, when, as the official minutes of the meeting indicate, Michael Kennedy, County Commissioner, reported that "administrative fees" of $20,000 per year were to be charged to the Special Improvement District to cover the costs of John DeVore, then the county's Chief Administrative Officer, who was assisting the Refuse District to acquire property and license the transfer station. Per the minutes, Kennedy stated that quarterly reports accounting for the money would be forthcoming and confirmed that any money not used would be returned to the district.

On October 16, 1996, the Refuse District Board wrote the county requesting an accounting for the $20,000 charged to the district during the 1995-96 fiscal year. The Refuse District Board wrote the county again on April 30, 1997, July 25, 1997, and in January of this year requesting an explanation. The Commissioners either did not respond or requested more time and additional information from the Refuse District. After the last request for information was fulfilled by the District, and there was still no response from the county, the Refuse District Board hired John Sytsma.

Last week, Sytsma met with county officials to get answers to the Refuse District's questions. According to Sytsma, county officials appear to be saying that they don't have to account for the money, and there's none left anyway.

Sytsma's report to the Refuse District Board at its April 27th meeting was confirmed by a letter sent to the district by Paul Webber, Chief Administrative Officer for Missoula County. "We have determined that it is not possible to give you a detailed accounting of the costs of services provided to your district during this period. We do feel that the fee was reasonable and recognized the scope of the services provided." writes Webber in his April 22, 1998, letter.

Sytsma noted that the main conclusion of the meeting was that the county has no policy governing "administrative fees" and no procedures to account for how "administrative fee" money collected is spent.

Sytsma added that Michael Kennedy denied making any statements to the Refuse District Board in 1996 about accounting for the money or reimbursing remaining funds when asked directly by Hal Luttschwager, a member of the county's management team, at the April 21st meeting in Missoula.

"You have to be accountable for public funds," stated Paul Turok, Refuse Board member, after Sytsma's report. Sytsma's stated that he believes that the district must next go before the County Commissioners and that he would research what steps need to be taken to pursue an accounting for this money, if directed by the Board.

"We need to keep moving on this," said Turok.

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