Gallatin County Courthouse File

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

The chairman, vice chair and another member of the Gallatin County capital improvements program committee have resigned over what they see as the commissioners’ lack of communication about and planning for major projects.

The capital improvements program committee includes one of the county commissioners and nine members who review capital requests and provide recommendations to the commissioners on the requests. They also help develop policies and plans related to long-term capital needs. Last year, the committee’s role expanded to include raising public awareness of capital projects.

In their resignation letters, the three committee members said this year, the commissioners haven’t worked with them on major projects as they did in the past.

“I am disappointed to see this committee being under-utilized as I believe it is a substantial resource that is willing to volunteer time, knowledge, experience and resources for the betterment of this community,” vice chair Dawn Martin said in her resignation letter.

Commissioner Don Seifert said he is disappointed committee members feel the commissioners have ignored them but said the committee has not requested a meeting with the commissioners to discuss their concerns. Seifert said he has received only one of the three resignation letters.

The commissioners have not yet decided whether they will fill the seats or dissolve the committee. The committee is not required by state law and county employees — including department heads and members of the facilities department — fulfill many of the same roles as the committee does, Seifert said.

The members who resigned said the commissioners’ actions will have long-term consequences for the county.

By ignoring the committee, member Mike Money said the commissioners are showing they aren’t prepared to address the county’s ongoing growth.

“As I see it right now, you are fighting a losing battle,” Money said in his resignation letter. “Future costs are mounting, and you have no savings plan to defer the cost other than significant tax increases. A good long-range capital improvements program will take the heat out of your kitchen, so the commission does not have to constantly beg taxpayers for additional dollars.”

Chairman David Weaver said he is particularly worried about the commissioners excluding the committee from discussions about replacing the Law and Justice Center, a 1960s-era building that doesn’t meet the county’s needs or current safety standards. The commissioners plan to place a bond issue for a new Law and Justice Center on the November ballot, but Weaver said the committee hasn’t been asked to educate voters about the project.

“I can only conclude from the commission’s lack of communication and involvement with the (capital improvements program committee) over the past several months that the commission has no interest in utilizing the (committee) process in regards to the Law and Justice Center project,” he said in a letter to commissioners. “Accordingly, I see no reason to volunteer more of my time to a process created by the county commission, but which is not utilized nor valued by the county commission.”

If voters don’t understand the need for replacing the Law and Justice Center, they will be less likely to approve the bond, which would leave the county without the money for a critical project, Money said.

However, Seifert said the committee has been involved in some planning for a new Law and Justice Center. He added that the county is now designing the new building with input from county officials, including one who is on the committee, and has not begun a public awareness campaign for the project.

November would be the county’s third attempt at financing a new Law and Justice Center. In 2014, voters rejected a $68.3 million bond for a joint city-county project. In 2018, Gallatin County and Bozeman came together to discuss replacing their shared building. The city went ahead with its own project and received voter approval for a $36.9 million bond.

Perrin Stein can be reached at 406-582-2648 or at pstein@dailychronicle.com. Follow her on Twitter @PerrinStein.

Perrin Stein is the county, state and federal government reporter for the Chronicle.

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