Gallatin County Courthouse File

The Gallatin County Courthouse is shown in this August 14, 2018, file photo.

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The Gallatin County Commission has rejected a component of a proposed settlement with the city of Bozeman over a lawsuit related to roadwork near the Regional Park.

The proposed piece of the settlement, which arose out of an Oct. 26 mediation, included having the city provide about 20 acres of land near the Bozeman Water Reclamation Facility for the county to build and operate a shared garbage drop site, known as a transfer station.

This piece of the proposed settlement became public because county commissioners discussed it at open meetings.

Gallatin County Attorney Marty Lambert said he couldn’t discuss any other possible components of a settlement because the mediation was confidential. City attorney Greg Sullivan said he couldn’t comment because the mediation is ongoing.

The transfer station would replace the Bozeman Convenience Site, which is on city land but is run by the county.

The transfer station would be larger than the convenience site, which the county has outgrown, said county administrator Jim Doar. It could also make it easier for Bozeman residents and the city’s solid waste division to dispose of garbage because they wouldn’t need to bring as many loads to the Logan Landfill in Three Forks.

This week, the county commissioners unanimously turned down the proposal to include the transfer station project in their settlement with the city. However, they said they would like to continue working on the joint project.

“This is a project that was already agreed upon as being a mutually beneficial project between the city and the county, something that both of us were encouraged to get involve in, something that would have happened otherwise, and now, it’s being offered to us as a settlement,” Commissioner Scott MacFarlane said. “... And it in no way addresses the question at issue here with the lawsuit.”

Lambert said it didn’t make sense to include the transfer station project in a settlement with the city, particularly because the price of the land that Bozeman has offered to contribute to the project is unknown.

“It may be a very desirable, very good thing for the citizens of Gallatin County and the city of Bozeman, but the issue is whether that should be included as part of the attempts to resolve the lawsuit,” he said. “And in order to do that, there ought to be some value to it, monetary value to it, and apparently, based on what the city has said long before the mediation session on Oct. 26, it has none.”

The mediation session ended without a resolution but with the possibility of the city and county returning to negotiations in the future, Lambert said. Neither Missoula lawyer Dennis Lind, the mediator, nor Gallatin County District Court Judge Rienne McElyea, who ordered the mediation, have set a date for when a settlement must be reached.

The mediation is an effort to resolve a four-year-old lawsuit between Gallatin County and the city of Bozeman.

In 2016, the city decided to expand and update roads near the county-owned Regional Park in west Bozeman.

To pay for the project, the city created a special improvement district — a tool for collecting taxes from landowners within a defined area for specific work — in 2017. At the time, the city estimated the county — a main landowner in the area — would be required to pay $1.1 million of the $2.5 million project.

The county then sued the city over the project. The county accused the city of failing to solicit bids for the project as required by law and, therefore, of incorrectly assessing taxes for the special improvement district.

In response, the city said it followed the law and said taxing the county for the project was fair.

A district court judge threw out the lawsuit in February 2018, ruling that the county couldn’t sue until it has paid the taxes.

The road improvements on and around North Ferguson Avenue and West Oak Street ultimately cost less than the city had estimated, so the city eliminated the special improvement district and formed a new district in April 2019 based on the project’s final cost.

The county then paid the first installment — $152,798 — of the $903,425 in taxes owed before filing a new lawsuit in January.

Judge McElyea ordered the city and county in September to resolve their dispute through mediation.

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Perrin Stein can be reached at pstein@dailychronicle.com or at 582-2648.

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