BEALL PARK

Two children play on a frog sculpture at Beall Park. Construction of new playground equipment and the removal of several trees at the park is set to begin July 10.

Bozeman voters will likely see a citywide parks and trails tax proposal on the November ballot.

City commissioners voted Monday to include a Parks and Trails Special District request in the 2019 election. Bozeman’s parks and trails have a maintenance backlog the city estimates will take nearly $7 million to reach national standards. Commissioners have said as more people arrive and more parks and trails are built, Bozeman has to keep up.

Mayor Cyndy Andrus said Tuesday city leaders have talked about a district for years — staff recommended the idea in 1996. She said an election is the best chance for residents to weigh in.

“I believe the time is now,” Andrus said. “I believe this community has made parks a priority, they have been a priority in the past and will continue to be a priority in the future.”

If voters approve the district, the city would spend five years unrolling the program. City staff estimate property owners with an average lot —7,500 square feet — would pay $135 within the program’s first year and $184 by its fifth year.

Bozeman annually collects money from property owners for parks and trails upkeep. That tax hit roughly $78 per median home this year. City staff has said that funding primarily covers reacting to problems.

Commissioner Jeff Krauss, who cast the sole vote against the plan Monday, said if parks maintenance is a priority leaders should find the money in the existing budget.

“(A district) takes the pressure off the commission to have to prioritize how we spend money,” Krauss said. “There should be a lot of pressure to prioritize, just like when everybody out here sees their mortgage or their rent go up from a new tax and they have to re-prioritize.”

Krauss said Bozeman residents can’t sustain the city’s “serial tax increases.”

In 2017, voters passed a $125 million bond to build a new high school and to remodel Bozeman High School.

Last year, residents approved a $36.9 million bond to build the Bozeman Public Safety Center, a new hub for city police, courts, victim services and a fire station.

Gallatin County leaders have said while that project will free up space in the city-county shared Law and Justice Center, they still need to replace the 1960s building that no longer fits safety codes.

Gallatin County Commissioner Scott MacFarlane told city leaders Monday the county also hopes to put its proposal for a new justice center on November’s ballot.

Andrus said Tuesday if Bozeman and Gallatin County head to the polls at the same time, the city’s request may help create the voter turnout Gallatin County needs.

MacFarlane said Tuesday it’s sometimes inevitable for an election season to include multiple requests, but added local governments should be sensitive to voter fatigue and “make the strongest effort to not interfere with each other’s initiatives.”

“It sounds like the county and the city will have more discussions about whether we want to be on the ballot at the same time in November or switch it up,” MacFarlane said.

He said spring elections will include a collection of school issues for voters to sift through and November 2020 will host a presidential race.

“There’s really no room for us to get our message out during that, so out of those three, this November just seemed like the responsible choice,” he said.

The Bozeman commission will have to pass a ballot resolution that spells out the parks and trails request sometime in late July or early August to make it on November’s ballot.

Katheryn Houghton can be reached at khoughton@dailychronicle.com or at 582-2628. Follow her on Twitter @K_Hought.

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