City tries to clarify parks district process

It’s been the subject of numerous discussions at city meetings and a public hearing, along with more than a few newspaper articles and letters to the editor—as well as a letter recently sent out by the city to gauge property owners on the matter.

But the process for potentially establishing a special parks district to fund the maintenance of the City of Dillon’s parks apparently remains confusing for many.

“I don’t think anybody with a loose grip on reality thought this would pass. There has been no public education,” asserted City Councilperson Mary Jo O’Rourke at last Thursday’s meeting of the council’s Parks Committee she chairs.

“The seven calls that I’ve received since yesterday morning have all been people who are absolutely confused and have no idea what this means—and ‘when did this happen’ and ‘why is there this budget crisis with the parks,’” said O’Rourke.

“Obviously, none of them have been reading anything—and, I really wonder if some of those people can read or listen,” responded Mayor Mike Klakken, who noted that the potential creation of a parks district had even been the subject of a March 21 public hearing.

“Because we’ve been talking about parks for two or three years,” said Klakken, who raised the issue of funding parks maintenance through a special parks district during several city council meetings last summer in which members of the council and city administration debated how to deal with a more than $100,000 projected shortfall in the city’s FY 2017–18 budget.

“We’ve been talking and talking and talking. We’ve had public hearings, we’ve had all of this to try to get it out to the people,” continued Klakken, who went on local radio with City Director of Operations Todd Hazelbaker on Friday to discuss the special parks district issue.

After more lengthy discussions on the matter at several city meetings earlier this year, the Dillon City Council set the process in motion by voting in favor of a resolution “to create a special parks district named City Parks District #1 to allow maintenance, installation, repair, upkeep and operation of city parks in the City of Dillon.”

That vote set up a March 21 public hearing where members of the public were invited to share their views on the matter, as they can at appropriate times during any city council meeting.

At its first meeting in April, the city council voted in favor of a resolution of intent to create a parks district. That vote set up the next step in the process—the mailing out of letters last month from the city to every property owner in Dillon.

“The City Council of the City of Dillon has decided to start the process of creating a new parks district,” begin the April 16 letters, which asked city property owners to either check a box indicating whether they agree or disagree with the creation of a new parks district.

“You’ve gotta understand—this is not a vote saying they want to do it or not,” explained Klakken at the April 25 Parks Committee meeting.

“This is a protest,” noted Klakken, citing state law.

Montana Code Annotated 7-11-1008. Right to protest-- procedure reads:

“(1) An owner of property that is liable to be assessed for the program or improvements in the proposed special district has 60 days from either the date of the first publication of the notice of passage of the resolution of intention or the date the protest form provided for in subsection

(2)(c).”

Subsection 2(c) reads:

“The governing body shall send each person referred to in 7-11-1007(3)(c) a protest form with space for any information required under subsection (2)(b) of this section, mailing instructions, and the date the form must be returned to the governing body. The form must allow a property owner to select either support for or opposition against the creation of the district. The forms returned with an indication of either support for or opposition against the creation of the district may be used, along with written protests submitted under subsection (2)(b), in determining whether sufficient protest has been filed to prevent further proceedings.”

It goes on to define property owner as: “a record owner of fee simple title to the property or a contract buyer on file with the county clerk and recorder,” and refine that definition by adding:

“(b)The term does not include a tenant of or other holder of a leasehold interest in the property.

(4)An owner of property created as a condominium may protest pursuant to the provisions in 7-11-1027.

And to later add: “property owned by a governmental entity must be considered the same as any other property in the district” in a provision that set up the Beaverhead County Commissioners recent decision on the matter (see story on page 1).

Once the June 15 deadline to return letters to the city has passed, the city will tally the votes, with each vote weighted by how much that particular property owner would pay to fund the special parks district each year.

By subsequent sections of 7-11-1008:

(b)If the protest is made by the owners of property in the proposed district to be assessed for:

(i)50% or more of the cost of the proposed program or improvements, in accordance with the method or methods of assessment, further proceedings may not be taken by the governing body for at least 12 months; or

(ii)more than 10% but less than 50% of the cost of the proposed program or improvements, in accordance with the method or methods of assessment, and if the governing body decides to proceed with proposing the district, the governing body shall order a referendum in accordance with 7-11-1011.

Klakken told the Dillon Tribune yesterday that the city has already received about a 10 percent response protesting the creation of the parks district.

A property owner who does not return the letter will be essentially counted as a ‘yes’ vote—or rather, as someone not protesting the creation of the special parks district, Klakken reiterated at last week’s Parks Committee meeting.

The administration will add up the votes and report on the results at the city council’s June 20 meeting.

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