Park district back on agenda for first commission meeting of new year

The proposed park district will be back in the spotlight in the new year starting with a Jan. 2 work session.

City Commissioners had asked for more options ahead of considering sending the question to voters on the May ballot and on Jan. 2, the new commission will get their first look at those options. Commissioners have until Feb. 20 to pass a resolution if they choose to send the park district to the ballot.

Earlier this year, about 20 percent of property owners returned protest forms. Under state law, if between 10 and 50 percent protest forms are returned in opposition, commissioners have the option to send a park district proposal to the ballot.

The city Park and Recreation Department has roughly $12 million in deferred maintenance and staff has proposed the park district as a way to fund those needs.

Staff has been developing options that include different assessment totals or a flat rate. They’ll see the higher range assessment options to lower rates that would lessen the tax burden on residents, said City Manager Greg Doyon.

If the park district is approved, commissioners will hold a public hearing annually to set the assessment.

Park maintenance districts like the one proposed in Great Falls are governed by state law. Missoula and Billings have already created park districts.

A park maintenance district has been discussed for years by Park and Rec officials, but the department opted to delay pursuing the option until the park and rec master plan was completed. That plan was completed and adopted by the City Commission in late 2016 and it included a recommendation for a park district to help catch up on the deferred maintenance.

Initially, city staff proposed a $2.26 million assessment for the first three years of what would be a 20-year assessment. The proposal was an assessment based on taxable value of property in Great Falls and for a property with a $100,000 taxable value, the assessment would be $43.28 annually, or $3.61 per month.

About 12,500 properties fall into the $100,000 to $199,000 market value range within the city limits, including residential, commercial, multifamily and industrial lots. That’s an estimate from the city based on data from the Department of Revenue.

Fuzzy on the park district details? Here’s a roundup of our previous coverage:

Park District assessment considered to support city park system

Park district hearing set for June 6

Park district proposal moving forward, 60-day protest period starts now

Things to know about the proposed Great Falls park district

Park district protest period now closed, Great Falls commission to discuss on Tuesday

Great Falls tax levy approved, commissioners direct staff to move forward with sending park district to May ballot