Tug Of War Being Waged In Mullan

Mullan’s Silver Dollar Bar has been around since before there even was a Mullan.

Now it looks like the bar also could outlast the city.

Some area homeowners are floating the suggestion that 91-year-old Mullan close its City Hall, send City Council members home and no longer be an incorporated city.

It’s a hot topic of debate at the Silver Dollar, with its spittoon, buffalo head and hanging chilies.

“They’re not coming to fisticuffs,” said bar owner Donna Scheel, “but they have opinions.”

Proponents of dissolving the city government say Mullan, population 880, is simply too small to fix its own streets, run a community center, tend parks and plow snow.

“We see a city with old equipment, brokendown equipment, and we wonder how we’re going to get it fixed,” said Trey Harbert, who lives just outside Mullan.

The proposal for dissolving city government is the latest flare-up of a smoldering 18-month battle.

At the root of the dispute is the city’s plan to expand city limits to take in homeowners east and west of Mullan’s boundaries, including Harbert.

If that happens, those homeowners would have to pay city taxes - an additional $103 each year per $10,000 in property value.

Harbert and other homeowners simply can’t see why they should pay.

“People have not explained to us how they’re going to plow our roads and maintain our sewers,” he said. “We don’t think they have the financial resources to take us in.”

Worse, he said, homeowners feel they’re being tapped unfairly by a city desperate for cash.

“We’re the quickest place to get money,” he said.

With an annual budget of about $200,000, Mullan certainly could use the money, city officials say.

But annexation would raise only about $8,000 more in property taxes.

The larger issue is the additional $13,000 to $15,000 the city would get from the state’s sales, liquor and other taxes. Those taxes are distributed to cities on a per capita basis. More people mean more money.

Mayor Gary Pemble says annexation should have happened 20 years ago.

“Mullan is a small town, and a lot of people are related to each other,” he said. “Issues of any adversarial aspect tend to be resolved by letting it be, rather than taking it on.”

While Harbert says it’s unfair for neighboring homeowners to pay city taxes, Pemble says it’s unfair for them not to pay.

“They already receive the benefit of the services we have,” he said recently.

“They come into town, they use our city just as we do, but we pay for the maintenance of that city.”

The neighbors are welcome at the library, community center and city celebrations, he said. They use city sewer lines; they drive under city street lights and on city roads.

“They’re Mullanites,” the mayor said. “They’re our friends and neighbors. They just don’t want to share the cost and privilege of having a city.”

If the city were to dissolve, he said, ownership of Mullan’s parks, cemetery, Morning Club community center and library would revert to Shoshone County.

And there is no way, Pemble said, that the county would be able to provide the same level of maintenance and staffing.

But Harbert pointed at buckled city streets, arguing that the city barely can maintain its roads and sewer lines now. It’s simply too small a community, he said, to support a city government, buildings, equipment and workers.

“We feel like it’s being crammed down our throats,” he said of annexation.

“It’s not that we don’t want to go in. It’s that we don’t want to have to bail the city out of its poor financial condition.”

Harbert also points to the community of Silverton, 10 miles west. He said it boasts good roads, law enforcement by sheriff’s deputies and a tightknit community - but no city government.

The tab for services is paid by Shoshone County taxpayers.

“Incorporation is merely a taxing authority and way to raise money,” Harbert said.

But Councilman Chuck Reitz disagrees. Without a city government, Mullan would lose its independence and identity, he argued.

He pointed toward the Montana border five miles to the east, where scattered mining communities are just shadows of what they once were.

“Go across the border and look at all those cities that used to be,” he said.

The battle shows no signs of ebbing. The city has mapped out an “area of impact” that includes the homeowners against annexation. Once the area is approved, it would be fairly easy for the city to annex them. A hearing on the area of impact is slated for May 11 at 7 p.m. at City Hall. It is likely to be wellattended.

The neighboring homeowners have formed the Mullan Area Homeowners’ Association to fight annexation. Harbert said the group will decide soon whether to push ahead for disincorporation.

An alternative, he said, is to elect sympathetic people into office in this fall’s city elections. The problem with that strategy, however, is that the city’s neighbors wouldn’t be able to vote in any city elections until after they had been annexed into the city limits.

“It will end, hopefully, with healed feelings,” said Reitz. “We want these folks to feel like part of the community.”

Graphic: City taxes in the Silver Valley

MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: Meeting set A hearing on the area of impact is slated for May 11 at 7 p.m. at City Hall.

This sidebar appeared with the story: Meeting set A hearing on the area of impact is slated for May 11 at 7 p.m. at City Hall.

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