Playing fetch at Peets Hill

Caroline Byrd throws a flying disc to her 7-year-old border collie Jack while taking a walk at Peets Hill on Monday in Bozeman.

Voters will decide this summer whether to approve a new fee to maintain the city of Bozeman’s parks, open spaces and trails.

The Bozeman City Commission voted 3-2 to ask voters to OK the new fees through a special district in May.

If voters approve the referendum, the city would assess properties beginning in the fall of 2020. The fee would be set annually by the city commission, meaning the body could change how much is collected through the district each year.

Monday’s decision means the city’s request will share space on the ballot with the Bozeman school district.

The city estimates the election it will cost about $50,000 — half the cost of hosting a March special election, which was also on the table Monday.

The city also has $27,000 in the budget to tell voters about the potential district.

Assistant City Manager Anna Rosenberry said Monday, aside from price, city staff were concerned a March special election wouldn’t offer enough time to ramp up an education campaign for the district, adding staff would have to begin “basically tomorrow morning.”

She said that would also put scheduling public education events through the holidays.

Some commissioners and city staff have said they’ve known for awhile city parks need more cash, saying the existing fee the district would replace hasn’t kept up with the city’s parks and trails needs. Last year, the city estimated a $7 million backlog in repairs and upkeep for Bozeman parks and trails.

It wouldn’t be Bozeman’s first fee district — it’s the same route the city collects money for its major streets.

The idea to make one for Bozeman’s outdoor places has been on the books for awhile. City staff recommended the idea of a parks district in 1996 and the commission voted to find a path to do that in 2018.

Commissioners have spent the last few months trying to figure out how to get the OK to collect that cash.

They first looked toward the November ballot, but Bozeman staff discovered a state law blocked the ask from joining a general election.

Commissioners landed on picking another election after public comment pushed against the idea of a unilateral commission vote that property owners could protest.

Commissioner Jeff Krauss voted against the measure after a history of pushing against the district’s creation. Deputy Mayor Chris Mehl said he voted against the measure because he thought the ballot language was confusing after the city identified the district as a priority years ago.

The next step is for the city to transfer the resolution to the Gallatin County Clerk and Recorder to join the election. The city manager will be in charge or an educational campaign on the issue that will include a website.

Katheryn Houghton can be reached at khoughton@dailychronicle.com or at 582-2628.

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