Public Wary of Parks District Proposal

By Beacon Staff

At a public hearing over whether to establish a special parks maintenance district Monday night, opponents of the idea criticized the Kalispell City Council for trying to tax the public in an unfair way during rough economic times, while supporters of the proposal described it as a means to improve the best parts of the city for future generations.

With Kalispell facing a serious budget pinch heading into the new fiscal year, city officials do not believe they can maintain the parks at current levels of service. With money tight, if city officials have to make a choice between paying for firefighters on the ground and mowing the lawn at a city park, the choice is clear. As a result, the city is unable to continue maintaining the city parks at current levels without finding some additional source of revenue.

The council recently passed a resolution announcing its intent to establish a parks maintenance district, with an assessment at a rate of .0055 of the parcel size in square feet. This means a 7,000 square foot lot would pay about $38.50 annually. A 4,000 square foot lot would pay $22 per year. A cap would limit parks fees on residences to a maximum of $150 per year for a 27,000 square foot lot, and $500 per year for a commercial property at 90,909 square feet. In a memo to the council, City Manager Jim Patrick also cited a recent survey indicating 80 percent support for the formation of a parks maintenance district.

But what irritated many opponents of the maintenance district at the hearing was the manner in which it will be passed: If the city receives protests from more than 50 percent of the property owners, the district cannot be established. Otherwise it will likely go through. Patrick said the city had sent out 7,400 letters informing property owners of the proposed parks district, and had received 129 letters back, most of which were protests.

Out of the 11 opponents who spoke up, many said they supported and enjoyed the city’s parks, but criticized the requirement of a 50 percent opposition to the parks district as an underhanded way of passing the measure.

“Using this strategy is strictly a way to play for public apathy,” said Eloise Hill. “I’m urging property owners to protest this devious mess of doing city budgeting.”

Marcia Triplett questioned why the city was pushing the issue through in the middle of summer, when most people are more concerned with lawn care and vacations than political issues.

“It just seems like you’re trying to ramrod something through here,” Triplett said. “Maybe the city of Kalispell, at this point in time, needs to tighten the economic belt a little bit.”

The six supporters of the parks maintenance district said the fee represents an investment in the future for Kalispell’s kids.

“I would love to see the parks grow and become even more beautiful then they are,” said David Cummings. “I see change and I see growth, and it’s slow, and I want more and for that, I am willing to pay for it.”

Rick Anfenson, principal of Peterson Elementary School, described how use of the parks would drop off if they are allowed to deteriorate.

“They’re using them more when they’re fixed up,” Anfenson said. “I can’t speak to the process or tax concerns, but I am supporting the tax that you ask for, just to keep our parks in working order and maintained for the future.”

The council took no action on the parks maintenance district. Written protests must be received by 5:00 p.m., Aug. 18, and should be sent to the Kalispell City Clerk, signed by all property owners, identifying the property. Mail should be sent to: P.O. Box 1997, Kalispell MT 59903 or by e-mail to [email protected]. Questions about the parks maintenance district can be asked of Parks and Recreation Director Mike Baker at 758-7718 or [email protected], or Patrick at 758-7703 or [email protected].