Troy Second Street vote too close to call: 207 against, 204 for

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The Town Pump site in Troy with the property the company owns on the opposite side of Second Street in the background. (Ben Kibbey/The Western News)

The citizens of Troy will have to wait until at least next week before they have an official answer on the sale of a portion of Second Street after a vote that is too close to call.

The initial vote tallies reported to the Montana Secretary of State by Lincoln county show 207 against the sale and 204 in favor of the sale.

However, there are still provisional ballots to count, and that won’t happen until Tuesday, Nov. 13, said Lincoln County Election Administrator Leigh Riggleman. Riggleman said the county may not know until later today if any of the provisional ballots are from precinct 7.

Provisional ballots may include voters who were unable to satisfy identification requirements on the day of voting or who went to an incorrect place to vote and weren’t on the voter rolls for that polling location.

Over the days following the election, Riggleman attempts to verify the eligibility of voters who cast provisional ballots before those ballots are counted and included in the final totals.

Once provisional ballots are counted on Tuesday, Nov. 13, the County Commissioners still have to canvas the vote — comparing the reported tallies to the precinct ballot count — and also certify it.

Riggleman said there are 606 registered voters in precinct 7 — the precinct that covers the City of Troy. With 411 votes recorded so far, the Second Street votes shows almost 68 percent of voters weighing in on the question.

According to the Montana Secretary of State’s website, voter turnout for Montana overall was 64 percent and for Lincoln County it was 69.6 percent.

“It’s up to the citizens, and according to that, they spoke,” said Troy Mayor Dallas Carr.

Carr said he has tried not to take sides on the Second Street question, but that he hates to see a multimillion dollar project “go down the road.”

However, Carr is not aware of whether Town Pump will abandon the project or alter it if the finalized vote is against, as he has kept communication with the company minimal, he said.

Unresolved

But even after the vote is finalized, the fate of the sale of a portion of Second Street may not be decided for certain.

In the weeks before election day, local residents raised concerns before the Troy City Council regarding the wording in the explanation that accompanies the ballot question.

Though not part of the actual ballot options voters choose from when casting a vote, the words “has sold” appeared in the first sentence of the accompanying explanation on the ballot. Several individuals told the council they felt those two words could lead voters to believe the sale had already taken place.

When casting a vote, the options voters had to choose between were, “FOR selling 7500 square feet of Second Street, a dedicated public street, abutting Missoula Avenue per City of Troy Resolution 2018-753,” and “AGAINST selling 7500 square feet of Second Street, a dedicated public street, abutting Missoula Avenue per City of Troy Resolution 2018-753.”

Despite the controversy the sale has generated in the past, the discussion during the public comment portion of the council’s October 17 meeting remained civil, and was typical of the public participation that is common to those meetings.

Among those who raised objections, a predominant number stood out as residents who have been vocally opposed to the sale since the first public meeting in February and at council meetings since.

Carr said he will be interested to see if those who opposed the sale will still want the vote invalidated based on the wording if the finalized vote is against the sale.

None of those objecting to the wording offered an immediate response when council member TJ Boswell asked if they would want the vote re-done if the sale was voted down.

However as the meeting closed, Second Street resident Celeste White said she felt the issue was bigger than the sale of a portion of her street.

“This is a moral issue for me now. It’s not Second Street. It’s not anything else. It’s transparency,” she said. “If it doesn’t pass, ‘Yay, I got what I wanted,’ but it needs done over. It needs done correctly.”

While some in opposition argued that the wording on the ballot could sway people to vote for the sale, Carr said he was also concerned about misunderstandings of what the proposed sale would mean.

Even in the last few weeks, he was approached by people who believed that access to Second Street from Highway 2 would be blocked by the proposed Town Pump project. When he told those people that Town Pump would allow traffic to pass through their parking lot to reach Second Street, it did not match with the impression they had taken from rumors, he said.

Amid discussions around Troy, the rumor has persisted that Bruce Cole, owner of TCO Lube and Tire, is in discussions to sell his property on the other side of Town Pump to the company. However, Cole said he has neither approached nor been approached by Town Pump since discussions broke down early this year.

Previously, Cole — who said he is among those opposed to selling any portion of Second Street — had said he considered closing his shop when he retires, but now his son is taking over the business, he said. The only way he would consider selling the business is if the sale allowed him to relocate the shop in Troy and continue doing business.

Cole said he does not anticipate Town Pump would be willing to pay what it would cost for him to relocate.

Background

The Troy City Council first voted to settle the question of selling a portion of Second Street to Town Pump with a ballot question on May 23 at a regular council meeting.

The controversy over Second Street originated with a proposal by Town Pump to make the southern area of the street between properties they own into a portion of their parking lot. In addition, the Town Pump store would expand, stretching about to the middle of what is now Second Street.

At an informational meeting in February, Dan Sampson, a construction development manager with Town Pump and the project manager, said Town Pump would continue to allow traffic to pass through between Second Street and Highway 2. However, they would install some form of traffic control such as speed bumps.

All of the pumps and fuel tanks would be located across Second Street from the current location, according to a draft plan Sampson brought to the February meeting.

On the draft plan, which Sampson said could change if the company does further planning, five pumps would be located to the southwest of the alley that runs parallel to East Spokane avenue. Another two are shown to the northeast of the alley.

Sampson told the meeting in February that Town Pump is interested in expanding because they see a market for more variety and quantity of products in their store.

He said the larger store would employ six full time and up to 10 part time workers, with a starting wage of $9 an hour.

Some audience members questioned whether the new jobs would come at a cost to local businesses and eliminate the jobs that they provide, a criticism that has resurfaced throughout discussions at City Council meetings.

At the February meeting, Sampson said that ultimately Town Pump seeks to be competitive, and it is possible that other businesses could lose customers as Town Pump gains them. However, he said he does not think they sell in the same niche as most other businesses in the area.

By email, Sampson said that, while legal restrictions related to the distance from the Troy Middle/High School would prevent them from putting a casino in regardless, Town Pump doesn’t want to anyhow.

Sampson said the company wants to make Second Street part of their property for safety. While they could put the store on one side and the pumps on the other, it would then require customers to cross the street to reach one from the other, increasing the chances of an accident involving a pedestrian.

The current situation with the space available and traffic sometimes backed up into the street is already unsafe and needs to be addressed, Sampson said.

Arnold Osmun, a petroleum construction manager with Town Pump, said at the February meeting that the current store and property would be completely removed as part of the construction of the new station, even the existing fuel tanks.

In addition, the ground between the properties would have to be landscaped to remedy the significant change in elevation on the side of the current store where it meets Second Street. The plan called for remediation of any water issues created by changes that Town Pump made to the property.

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