Bozeman city commissioners have a trio of options for creating a Parks & Trails Special District to impose taxes to address a $7 million parks and trails maintenance backlog.

They are making the wrong choice.

Commissioners voted last week to announce their intent to create the district by a vote of the commission and then allow taxpayers who object to protest the move. If taxpayers who own 10 percent of the real estate in the city protest, the district would be rejected.

That’s just not right. In a democracy, voters should have the right to approve or reject the idea in a direct vote on the matter.

Commissioners had initially intended to put the issue to the voters on the November ballot. But city attorneys informed them that a law enacted by the 2015 Legislature prohibits tax district votes in general elections. That left the commission with the options of piggybacking the issue on next spring’s school election, conducting a special election or creating the district by a commission vote and inviting taxpayers to protest.

Either of the first two options would be preferable to the latter. Staff informed the commission that putting the issue to the voters in the school election would cost about $50,000; a special election would cost $100,000 or more, while creating the district and inviting protests would cost just $10,000. But there are more important considerations than money.

Creating district and inviting protests leaves all non-property owners out of the decision-making process. Some might argue that renters won’t pay taxes imposed in the parks and trails district. But that’s simply not true. Increased property taxes will translate into increased rent and renters deserve a say on the question.

Waiting until next spring’s school election to put the question to voters is the commissioners’ best option. It will only delay the matter over the winter months and most of the parks and trails maintenance work funded by the district will be done in warm weather months.

The maintenance backlog is not such an urgent issue that it can’t wait a few months. Commissioners need to revisit their plan and think this through. Voters – all voters – deserve a chance to accept or reject the creation of the district.

Editorial Board

  • Mark Dobie, publisher
  • Nick Ehli, managing editor
  • Bill Wilke, opinion page editor
  • Don Beeman, community member
  • Richard Broome, community member
  • Renee Gavin, community member
  • Sarabeth Rees, community member
  • David Swingle, community member

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