City considers new tax to fund parks

By MATT PARSONS/Montana State News

Advocates for public parks in Bozeman would like to find a new and better way to fund the growing number of city parks and trails, and that may include a new tax.

On the heels of a $15 million parks and trails bond that was overwhelmingly approved by voters last November, David Cook, chairman of the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board, thinks it’s time to get serious about how the city funds its Parks department.

“Currently their budget comes from the city’s general fund,” he said. “But with the money from the bond there will obviously be a sizable increase in the amount of land requiring maintenance by the city.”

“But none of the money from the parks and trails bond can be allocated for general maintenance, repairs or renovations of existing park land,” Mitch Overton, director of city’s Parks and Recreation Department explains.  “The intent of the bond was to purchase land for preservation, parks and trails.”

And it appears as if the first purchase has already been made. The Trust for Public Land recently bought 61 acres adjacent to the iconic Story Mill with the intention of turning at least part of that land over to the city for a new park.

“The City Commission assured us that we would get the funding we need when the time comes,” Overton said.  “They certainly don’t expect us to operate more and more facilities with the same budget.”

But any additional funding would likely have to come from some other city department.  And while the parks department has seen a steady increase in their budget over the past few years, other departments have already had to do with less.

“Ultimately we’d like to look at establishing a park maintenance district,” said Cook. “This would essentially allow the city to assess a tax that would guarantee funding for the parks department. It would be tied to property, so as the city grows, so will the funding for parks.”

However, Bozeman taxpayers are already beginning to feel the burden of additional bond measures and special assessments.  Voters recently approved funding for a new elementary school on the west side of town.  They may soon be faced with the question of whether to build another high school, an aquatics facility and a new law and justice center.

“Obviously the people of Bozeman are behind the idea of more and better parks,” Overton says.  “I think the overwhelming support that the voters showed for the parks and trails bond demonstrates that.” But whether they would be willing to impose another special assessment on themselves remains to be seen.

— Edited by Alex Komsthoeft

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