Missoula County eyes low-interest loan for water, sewer upgrades at fairgrounds

With the first wave of improvements set to begin at the Missoula County Fairgrounds this year, commissioners are hoping to tap a low-interest loan from the state to address the property’s sewer and water needs.

Commissioners on Wednesday signed an application for revolving loan funds to cover the project’s estimated cost of $1.2 million. The state program is earmarked for wastewater and drinking water projects and provides loans at a low interest rate, which currently sits at 2.5 percent.

“Once we actually apply, that’s when the rate will lock,” said Chris Lounsbury, the county’s chief operating officer. “We’ve been having every-other-week conference calls with the revolving loan folks in Helena, as well as DNRC, which is one of the coordinating agencies, to get everyone on the same page.”

The county plans to break ground on the first of several improvements at the Missoula County Fairgrounds this year, including the renovation of several historic structures and site work for a future livestock center and rodeo arena.

Emily Brock Bentley, director of the fairgrounds, said water and wastewater projects will also begin this year. That includes modern water mains capable of feeding the property’s fire hydrants and a proper wastewater system – one that would replace the property’s dated sewer system.

“The funding is for putting in new water utilities and sewer utilities so we can have hydrants for the fair this year and get rid of the 16 unknown toilets and septic system we have at the fairgrounds,” Bentley said. “It’s putting in full sewer and water mains.”

A portion of the work would take place before this year’s fair, Bentley said. Eventually, the water system would connect to Missoula Water.

Commissioners last month adopted a resolution stating their intent to create a special district to fund improvements at the county fairgrounds.

The move would enable the county to bond around $20 million and pay it back over 20 years using funding generated from three mills levied by commissioners during last year’s budgeting process.

While commissioners have not yet officially established the special district, Lounsbury said it would have no impact on the revolving loan fund.

“If the fairgrounds special district is established, the application would not be amended in any way,” Lounsbury said. “The source of payment is the same whether the commissioners create a special district or not. It would just flow-through, and it doesn’t impact the funding at all.”