A county employee who rents a county-owned house near Basin Creek Park wants first dibs at buying it now that it’s to be sold, with proceeds used to fix up the nearby “caretaker’s home” also owned by Butte-Silver Bow.
John Osterman, chief operator of the Metro Sewer Plant who pays only $100 in rent per month because he polices the park south of town, said he’s lived in the house for three years.
“When the house came available to rent, I had the understanding that this would be for the long term,” Osterman wrote in a June 28 letter to commissioners. “I feel that since I am currently residing in the house that I should be offered the first opportunity to purchase the home.”
The county’s Land Sales Committee is scheduled to meet at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday in the Butte-Silver Bow Courthouse to discuss selling the house and Osterman’s request to have first choice at buying it.
It’s the latest chapter in a long-running saga involving the nearby Basin Creek Park caretaker’s house, which has been vacant for years, repeatedly vandalized and now needs an estimated $140,000 in work and repairs.
County officials wanted to demolish it in 2014, saying numerous ways to save it over many years had not panned out. But the Historic Preservation Commission granted a 90-day reprieve and three years later, it’s still standing.
Commissioner Jim Fisher pressed the council for a final decision on the house in May, with demolition an option. Commissioner Dan Foley said it made no sense to sell one county-owned house to fix-up another or put more money “into a house that’s falling apart.”
But the council voted 7-3 to spare the house again and move forward with plans to sell the home Osterman rents, along with some of the land it sits on, and use the money to fix up the caretaker’s house.
The Butte Water Co. built the latter house in 1913 and until the 1990s, the caretaker of the reservoir and water works lived there. But a new house was built nearby and the older house has been empty — and often vandalized — since then.
County Chief Executive Dave Palmer, Historic Preservation Officer Mary McCormick and Public Works Director Dave Schultz want the house repaired so a county employee can live there and keep a closer eye on the park and Basin Creek Reservoir.
Osterman does some of that now through an agreement that also rents him the house for $100 a month, Schultz said. He locks the park gate at 10:30 nightly and polices the area for signs of intrusion, cows or other things that threaten the area.
“His value to us is that his presence deters someone from accessing and damaging the dam or polluting the reservoir,” Schultz said.
But the caretaker’s house offers a better vantage-point for policing the area, Schultz and McCormick say, and that will be even more important when the reservoir is opened for public use during daylight hours next year.
The only allowable public access point planned for the reservoir is an old road that runs right next to the caretaker’s house, Schultz noted. Motorized vehicles will not be allowed, but people will be able to walk to the reservoir from there.
The two-story, county-owned house Osterman rents has a full basement, a dining room and at least two bedrooms upstairs. A roadway marked as “private” leads up to the house, and the entrance is next to gates into the park and a parking area.
You can see part of the small park from the occupied house, but the back part and road leading up to the reservoir are blocked by trees.
Wednesday’s meeting of the Land Sales Committee is the first time the panel has discussed selling the house, so it’s unclear how that process might unfold. The sale and Osterman's request are both on the agenda.
The committee only makes recommendations to the full council, which has final say on such matters.