Yellowstone County Commissioners are split on a proposed change in the regulations regarding the formation of subdivisions.

At issue are private roads in some subdivisions for which property owners believe the County should maintain their roads, having not realized the roads were private and therefore the responsibility of homeowners, or perhaps being members of a non-functioning home owners association (HOA) which fails to maintain roads.

Two of the commissioners, John Ostlund and Mark Morse, want to require that future subdivision developers in the county, wanting to provide private roads must have gated communities, so that it is clear to everyone that the roads are private and not public. Developers are often eager to make roads private because it lowers costs, even though initially the roads are required to be built to county standards.

Commissioner Don Jones said this is just “big government getting in the way.” Some HOA’s do work, said Jones, adding that in the market place it’s the buyer’s responsibility to know what they are purchasing. “Buyer beware,” he said. The means are available for homeowners to take care of roads themselves, including an increasing number of companies that are available to contract with HOAs to provide regular maintenance. “You are just putting on more regulations,” said Jones.

The commissioners pondered the issue at a discussion last Thursday afternoon, with Tim Miller who heads the Public Works Department and with Woody Woods who heads the county planning board. Both Miller and Woods agreed that HOA’s seldom work.

Ostlund said that as the homes are sold and resold information about the roads being private is not passed along to new buyers and they are later surprised and resistant to having to be responsible for maintaining them. Ostlund noted that gated communities do provide a measure of security.

County officials are proposing to change county subdivision regulations to require that every subdivision create a Rural Special Improvement District (RSID) and make roads public, unless the developer designs it to be a gated community, which makes it obvious that the roads are private. An RSID is a formal means of assessing and collecting the cost of road maintenance (and perhaps other maintenance needs) as a part of taxes, payment for which is treated just like payment of taxes.

Miller said that often nothing is done to keep the roads in good condition until they become so bad that it is very costly to bring them back to standards.

The county plays a role in not only establishing the RSID and collecting the revenues, but every year the Public Works Department analyzes the subdivision’s needs and arranges, usually through third party contracts, to do the work, which the county oversees, explained Miller. Property owners in the RSID can choose to adjust the revenue paid into their RSID or to extend collections to cover other needs, such as lighting etc.

The county can also assist subdivisions without RSIDs in creating one. It requires 60 percent approval of property owners in the subdivision.

The county commissioners have put forth a resolution which is currently before the county planning board to change the subdivision regulations. Miller said that the process will involve holding three public hearings in the community to explain the proposal to citizens.


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