Gallatin County has to pay Bozeman for road improvements and attorney fees as part of a settlement agreement stemming from the county’s lawsuit against the city.
The county owes the city $950,000, according to settlement documents. Of that total, $46,575.35 is for attorney fees, which would be paid to the city’s attorney, Peter Scott.
The settlement agreement would be the final step in a years-long battle between the county and the city over the city’s creation of a road improvement district, which held the county liable for paying a portion of the cost for road work for the West Side Agreement, a 2017 project that extended Ferguson Avenue and widened Oak Street.
The agreement won’t be final until Bozeman Mayor Cyndy Andrus and Gallatin County Commission Chair Scott MacFarlane both sign the document. Gallatin County would have 15 days to pay the rest of what it owes once the agreement is finalized.
The Bozeman City Commission is scheduled to authorize the mayor to sign the agreement — which would also release both parties from the dispute — on Nov. 23. However, the Gallatin County Commission could take another week before the chair signs the document.
Gallatin County Deputy Attorney Erin Arnold said that the county did not get the agreement placed on next week’s agenda in time, but that it would appear on the Nov. 30 agenda. The 15-day countdown for payment would begin once there is final approval from both sides.
Bozeman spokesperson Melody Mileur confirmed that the city does not plan to pull the agreement from the city commission’s agenda next week, despite Gallatin County missing its chance to get the agreement ready for next week’s meeting.
The county began paying for the road improvements in Nov. 2019, and has paid $618,028.71 so far from the Open Space Fund.
Those payments were made under protest. Arnold said that part of the law for special improvement districts — which are roadwork districts that the city can create to get payment for road improvements — allows landowners to protest paying for work in the district.
However, the owner still has to make payments, but the city can’t use the money until the protest, or lawsuit, is over.
Bozeman created two of these districts that included the stretches of Ferguson Avenue and Oak Street that ran along the county-owned Regional Park.
One came in 2017 prior to construction starting on the project, and a lawsuit from the county followed later that year in August, according to court documents.
That lawsuit was dismissed in 2018, and the city dissolved the district to get a better assessment of what the county had to pay for the roadwork. Another was created in 2019 with a new assessment of $903,000, and the county sued again.
District Court Judge Rienne McElyea’s late September decision on the lawsuit between Bozeman and Gallatin County indicated that the roadwork district that the city created in 2019 was “not lawfully created” and that the county had the right to protest the payments, according to court documents.
However, McElyea’s decision also dictated that while the district was illegally created, the county still had to pay for the roadwork.