City 101 launches, covers role of commission, animal shelter, Mansfield center

The first City 101 session was Thursday with 18 participants and a focus on the role of the Commission and city manager, the animal shelter and Mansfield Center operations.

A group of the participants are regulars at commission meetings but said they wanted to learn more about how the city works. About half raised their hands when Mayor Bob Kelly asked who had never been in the commission chambers.

City government 101 program in the works

“We understand that not everyone knows what’s going on in the city,” Kelly said.

City Manager Greg Doyon asked the group to name challenges facing the city.

The group said: lack of shopping, losing businesses, infrastructure, losing kids, negatively, workforce, jobs, drugs, making the budget work, poverty level and healthcare.

Most action items have been discussed at multiple levels of the city, including multiple public board meetings, before going to a commission vote, Doyon and Kelly said.

Doyon said when he first arrived in 2008, the city’s general fund was spread very thin. He’s spent the last decade working to make the city more financially stable, he said.

In this year’s budget, he said the city has to have fiscal discipline to make necessary repairs and also plan for known infrastructure needs on the horizon.

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It was frustrating, Doyon said, to want to put money into public safety needs such as additional staffing or equipment, only to find that two stations have sewer collapses underneath requiring that about $500,000 be put toward those repairs.

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He told the participants that major projects coming up include closing the Natatorium, soliciting proposals for the city’s two golf courses and dealing with the Civic Center facade.

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“We will have to go to voters,” he said, for a bond to fix it, otherwise the city might have to block off some entrances, but the building is in no danger of being closed.

Donna Hughes of the Mansfield events center told the group that the building “was so well designed, so well thought out that it’s still serving as a place for gathering, entertainment and still serving as the seat of city government.”

She gave the group a tour of the facility that issued 32,227 tickets in fiscal year 2018 and generated $927,112 in ticket revenue.

But significant repairs are needed for the Civic Center and Mansfield complex, including the facade and the roof. The theater staff and foundation have been working to replace the theater seats, but Hughes said that’s on hold since there’s not much use in replacing the seats if the roof continues to leak into the theater.

In October, the City Commission approved a $494,060 professional services agreement for architectural and engineering design services for repairs to the facade of the Civic Center.

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“There’s no consideration of closing the Civic Center at this time,” Doyon told The Electric last week. “We don’t need to take any extreme measures at this time.”

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There has been no discussion in any public meeting about the Civic Center facade that involve closure of the building though some entrances may have to be blocked off depending on the state of the facade panels.

Doyon said the city met with the architect last week and was waiting on the engineering report to determine how to move forward.

Efforts are also underway to improve the Great Falls Animal Shelter.

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Shelter staff started fundraising four years ago to cover cost of the needed improvements and as of Thursday, they’re within¬†$6,000 of their $400,000 fundraising goal, said shelter director Lynn Formell.

Initial estimates for the first phase of the improvements was $400,000.

Bids open for expansion project at the Great Falls Animal Shelter

The city recently requested bids for the improvement project and received one that was significantly more than those early estimates. So the city is making some adjustments to see what they can push to later phases to get the project started within available funding resources.

Formell said the shelter houses 2,166 animals annually and is the only major crematorium in the area.

When Formell started at the shelter in 2012, the facility had an 85 percent kill rate. When she took over as director in late 2013, the community regularly asked why the shelter couldn’t be a no-kill shelter.

So she got to work.

“We answered,” Formell said. “We’ve done it.”

Formell told the group about Guch, a four-year-old male pit-pull who found himself in the shelter five times between October 2014 and June 2015. His owners surrendered him in June 2015 and at first he wasn’t having much luck getting adopted.

“He was my no-kill initiative,” Formell said.

Initially, he wasn’t good with other dogs, but through training, he was able to make visits to Highgate Senior Living Community and was adopted in October 2017.

Now, he’s a service dog for Liz Rowe and taught himself to be her medical alert dog.

Rowe and Guch visited the City 101 group on Thursday.

“He changed me,” Rowe said. “Without Guch, I would not be able to live a successful life.”

Now, they’re at a 90 percent live release rate, Formell told the group.

The shelter does not euthanize animals due to their length of stay at the shelter. In most cases, animals are only euthanized if it’s dangerous or aggressive, been involved in a bite case, court ordered, feral, sick with an illness untreatable with reasonable resources or deemed unadoptable in some other way. More information is available in the shelter policy manual.

Opportunities for the city, Doyon told participants, include the increase in economic development, including infill on 10th Avenue South, which is helped by maintaining infrastructure, Doyon said; the coming replacement of the intercontinental ballistic missile weapon system at Malmstrom Air Force Base and the park maintenance district.

Doyon used the West Bank tax increment district to highlight how the city encourages development and a participant asked how those might grow.

He said he believes the city is maxed out on TIFs for the time being.

Kelly said some people think the city discourages development.

“When people say we don’t encourage, of course we do, of course we want development,” Kelly said. “We don’t tell Olive Garden not to come here.”

As far as public involvement with city boards, committees and comment at public meetings, Doyon and Kelly said it makes a difference.

“Showing up here matters,” Kelly said. Writing emails, calling, it helps inform commission and staff decisions.

Doyon said in his experiences he heard a saying that stuck with him: “politics goes to those who show up.”

He said the city benefits from a variety of perspectives and that local government is “the place that you can make the most difference. When you show up it counts. Is it convenient, no…but it is important.”