County attorney affirms lawfulness of park district ballot language; vote certified by Secretary of State

An area resident filed a complaint with the Cascade County Attorney’s Office alleging that the recently approved Great Falls park district vote was conducted unlawfully.

It wasn’t, according to state law and Cascade County Attorney Josh Racki.

The ballot simply read “Shall the proposition to organize Great Falls Park District Number 1 be adopted?” Voters could respond yes or no.

Underneath the question, the ballot included the statement, “by voting yes, you support Great Falls Park District Number 1 for the purpose of providing certain maintenance, purchasing and improvement services for city-owned facilities, land and equipment under the responsibility and care of the City of Great Falls Park and Recreation Department and providing for other matters property relating thereto.”

The complaint alleged that the ballot language was in violation of Montana Code Annotated, but it was not.

State law specifically dictates the ballot language for a special district.

MCA 7-11-1011 states: “The proposition to be submitted to the electorate must read: ‘Shall the proposition to organize (name of proposed special district) be adopted?'”

Sara Sexe, Great Falls city attorney, said the city was careful to follow the legal requirements and that the Montana Secretary of State has certified the vote.

In his letter responding to the citizen complaint, Racki wrote: “The creation of a Special District is controlled by Title 7, Chapter 11, Part 10 of the Montana Code Annotated. After reviewing your concern, I have determined that the language in the Special District section in the Ballot Issues column of the May 8, 2018, School Election Ballot is in accordance with Section 7-11-1011(4), MCA. The way a special district is financed is also controlled by the referenced part of the Montana Code. Financing a Special District is the responsibility of the ‘governing body.’ Section 7-11-1024, MCA. If you disagree with how this election was conducted, the Montana Constitution allows one to pursue ‘…a post-election challenge to the manner in which the election was conducted…by means of the courts.’ Article 4, Section 7(2).”

Some area residents have taken to social media to say they didn’t know what they were voting for and that they might not have voted yes if they knew it would cost them money as a property owner.

The law dictates that only the question be asked on the ballot, but it also required that the City Commission adopt a resolution detailing the necessity for the proposed district; a description of the boundary to be included in the district; the general character of any proposed improvements; the estimated cost and method of financing the proposed program or improvements; whether the district would be administered by the governing body or an appointed or elected board; and the duration of the proposed special district.

The City Commission adopted the resolution of intent to create the park district during their Feb. 6 meeting, which included a public hearing.

The park district cost, ballot language and provision allowing non-city residents who own property in the city to vote were also discussed during a Jan. 2 work session and a Jan. 8 special work session, among others last year and two town hall meetings this spring.

Here’s a few of stories from The Electric that mention the ballot language and other details about the vote:

Ballots due May 8; special park district ballots available for non-city residents owning property within city limits

Town hall meetings planned on park district proposal

Park district public hearing set for Feb. 6

Park district goes to May 8 ballot

Ballots are in the mail for the proposed $1.5 million park district

Park district is on track to go to May 8 ballot for $1.5 million assessment