A committee is recommending that a county-owned house at Basin Creek Park be sold at public auction to the highest bidder so the money can be used to fix up the nearby “caretaker house” also owned by Butte-Silver Bow.
The county’s Land Sales Committee endorsed the plan on a voice vote Wednesday, with nobody dissenting, but the Council of Commissioners will get the final say. That could come soon.
The house to be sold is rented to John Osterman, chief operator of the Metro Sewer Plant in Butte. He pays the county $100 in monthly rent, since he polices the small park, about 10 miles south of Butte, and closes its gates each night.
The committee essentially rejected his request to get first dibs on buying the two-story house, which he has lived in for three years. It sits on more than 20 acres also owned by the county.
County Assessor Dan Fisher said the plan to sell “one perfectly good house” to fix another “doesn’t make any sense.” But if a sale is to proceed, he said, the county had no business giving preferences to potential buyers.
“This will open up a whole new can of worms,” he said.
County Chief Executive Dave Palmer and two other top officials want to fix up the caretaker house, which has been vacant for years, is badly damaged from repeated vandalism and needs $140,000 in work and repairs.
They want a county employee to live in the house once it’s repaired, saying it is a better vantage point for policing the park. That will be even more important starting next year, they say, when the Basin Creek Reservoir is open to public use.
The Butte Natural Resource Damage Program Council provided $10 million of the $30 million it took to build the new water treatment plant in the area, but as part of the deal, it required the county to open the reservoir for recreation.
It should be open next year, Palmer told the committee Wednesday, and someone in the caretaker house will mean “better control of what is going on.” The only planned public access point to the reservoir runs right next to that house.
Fisher, the county assessor, argued against the plan before an auction was endorsed.
The Butte Water Co. built the caretaker house in 1913 and until the 1990s, someone lived there and looked over the reservoir and waterworks. The county took over the water company in the early 1990s and the newer house was built nearby.
The other has been empty since then, and Fisher said county officials have been “dealing” with it for at least the last dozen years.
“We have tried giving it away, we have tried putting money into it, we have tried everything,” he said.
That even included proposals to move it, he noted, only to learn months after that the house is too wide to move on the narrow road leading to the park.
He said he had talked with people about the current idea to sell the one house to fix up the other.
“They think it’s a bizarre idea,” he said.
But after others defended the idea, it was Fisher who made the motion on how to go about selling it. After a couple of suggestions, the plan goes like this:
- The newer house would be appraised by the Department of Revenue, minus most of the acreage, which will remain in the county’s hands. Survey work would also be done.
- Easements need to be worked out so the new owner can still use a current roadway to the house and the county can keep a water line leading to the reservoir.
- The council would decide when a public auction would occur and the baseline for bids would be the state’s appraised value. Osterman, if not the buyer, would have six months to move out.
Osterman, before the plan was finalized, said he wasn’t sure whether he needed to look for another place to live.
He said he did a “lot of watching over the park at night,” often kicking people out at night when they were not allowed to be there. He had called police at times and they once arrested some people for smashing in the front gate, he said.