The City of Choteau learned last week that its application for a Treasure State Endowment Program grant to improve the city’s water system ranked 21st out of 40 applications. The state has funding for the projects ranked first through 20th, so Choteau will have to look at other programs to obtain funding to complete the much-needed work. Mayor Chris Hindoien said the main reason Choteau ranked lower was that turnout at the public hearings on the project was low, and few citizens offered their support or opposition. The agency ranking the applications gave more weight to those projects that demonstrated higher levels of support from stakeholders.

The city office last week asked people who were affected by basement flooding last winter to send photos of the damage, invoices showing how much repairs cost and letters of support for the city’s application for a Building Resilient Infrastructure Community grant. The BRIC grant is one part of a $1.3 million funding package to pay for upgrading the wastewater collection system on the east side of town. Getting this grant, Hindoien said, would save city residents $750,000 to $1 million in payments over 40 years. The city had hoped to apply for the BRIC grant in 2020, but will likely push that application into 2021 to take the time to gather the supporting documents.

People who live and do business in Choteau need to support the city’s grant applications for water, sewer, garbage, tree and sidewalk and street improvement projects. People may not realize how important this responsibility is or they may be intimidated by the idea of giving public comment, but giving comment is really not that hard.

One way to do this by attending public hearings and testifying in support of the grant application and the project. However, for citizens who cannot attend public hearings, there are other options. They can take a few moments to write a letter of support and mail it to (or drop it off at) the city office, or they can fax a copy of their letter to the city office, or send an email to the mayor, city finance officer or any council member.

Grant funding is vital to the city to offset the impact on ratepayers for infrastructure improvements. Choteau has only a small population to spread costs of multi-million-dollar projects over. Under the current system of funding infrastructure projects, the ratepayers using the services will always bear the brunt of the costs unless outside grant funding is secured. Grant funding can cut the city’s share of the project costs significantly, but only if the city can get the grant applications approved.

The city’s water and sewer system problems are not going away, and will only get worse with time. The city will continue to seek grant funding to offset the huge cost of improvements, but the mayor and the City Council cannot do this by themselves. They need Choteau residents to step up and support grant applications in writing or by giving testimony at public hearings.