Park District assessment considered to support city park system

City Commissioners will consider this summer whether to establish a park district to supplement current funding and create a sustainable funding source for the Park and Recreation Department.

At their May 16 work session, Patty Rearden, interim Park and Rec director, will review the proposal for commissioners and during the regular meeting, commissioners are scheduled to vote to set a June 6 public hearing on a resolution of intent to create a special park district. If approved, that will begin the 60-day protest period. City officials anticipate scheduling a public hearing for Sept. 5 to levy and assess the park district.

Park districts are allowable under state law and funds can be used for parks, forestry and trails for capital improvements, staff and operations, as well as for maintenance and improvements to recreation and aquatics facilities, but the funds cannot be used for programming.

The proposal before the City Commission on Tuesday is to create a 20-year park district for $2,267,796 annually for the first three years and the assessment would be based on taxable value. For a property with a $100,000 taxable value, the assessment would be $43.28 annually.

The assessment can be adjusted annually and must be set by resolution from the commission.

Rearden said the park district has been discussed for years, but staff waited for the Park and Rec master plan to be completed before making major changes. The master plan recommends a park district.

The master plan identified $12 million in deferred maintenance and recommended completion of those projects within 1-5 years. The plan also recommends 39 full-time employees. The department currently has 23.5 full timers and the plan recommends the addition of 12 positions within the next three years.

City Manager Greg Doyon said “there’s no way the general fund could fund those deficiencies.” It’s up to the commissioners to decide how much general fund support to give to Park and Rec if the park district is approved and that will be done through the regular budget process over the next few months.

Doyon said he’s suggested to commissioners a small reduction of general fund support if the $2.2 million park district assessment is approved, but the commission hasn’t given him any indication what they’re thinking for that funding level yet.

Rearden is developing a three-year budget for the park district and proposed improvements during that period include, but are not limited to:

  • restroom improvements for Gibson, Oddfellows and Lions Parks;
  • picnic pavilions and tables;
  • play equipment;
  • resurface basketball, tennis/pickleball courts;
  • ADA sidewalks to play structures;
  • improvements to Electric City Water Park Bath House;
  • replacement of Gibson Park and Elks Riverside Trails;
  • improvements to River’s Edge Trail and Multi Sports Softball Complex (match money);
  • new dog park;
  • feasibility study for a recreation/aquatics facility;
  • mature tree trimming and tree replacement; and
  • operations/equipment/upgrades/labor/staff/contracted services.

Current funding doesn’t allow for adequate maintenance of facilities and parks, according to Park and Rec, and there has been no funding for capital improvements or major repairs. The city’s capital improvement plan recommended $438,676 for Park and Rec in the current fiscal year, but no funding was allocated to the department for those projects, according to Park and Rec.

In Forestry, the industry standard for trimming trees is every 4-7 years. In Great Falls, the current schedule is 30-35 years. Lack of inspections and pruning may create safety hazards and potential property damage; is detrimental to the health of the trees/urban forest; and substantially increases the cost/time to trim each individual tree., according to Park and Rec. The master plan recommends adding three forestry staff positions within three years.