By David Tucker Explorebigsky.com Contributor
BOZEMAN – At a time when many Americans are pleading with their elected officials to cut taxes, the citizens of Bozeman stood in front of the City Commission last night and suggested the opposite.
A standing room only crowd persistently urged the council to support Commissioner Chris Mehl’s bond initiative to pay for trails, parks, and open spaces. Feeding off of each other’s energy and enthusiasm, concerned parents, medical professionals and conservation specialists, among others, voiced support for the bond proposal.
Mehl presented the details of the bond policy to the commission, which would equal either $10 or $15 million, calling the bond “an investment” in Bozeman’s now famous quality of life. This sentiment echoed comments about the city’s outdoor opportunities, a legacy that more trails and parks would preserve as the city continues to develop. Representatives from the Trust for Public Land, Gallatin Valley Land Trust, and various other local nonprofits were also present to show their organizations’ commitment to the initiative.
With land prices and interest rates at historic lows, Mehl urged a somewhat hesitant mayor Sean Becker that the time is now to move forward with enhancing Bozeman’s parks, trails and open spaces.
Becker expressed concern about the heft of the bond, citing various ongoing public works projects also in need of funding, but in the end supported the proposal to have a motion brought to the Commission in July. If the motion is passed in July, a referendum would be added to the ballot in November, allowing the citizens to decide.
Deputy Mayor Jeff Krauss expressed concern about voters not represented at the meeting, charging that supporters were not only asking to tax themselves, but also “asking to tax other people.”
One of the more compelling economic arguments for the measure came from Bozeman’s organized sports community. Representatives from the soccer and lacrosse leagues were present to note the need for a comprehensive complex of sports fields that would attract regional and state tournaments, citing revenues in the millions of dollars enjoyed by other Montana cities from similar events.
After dozens of testimonies from concerned citizens, and an inspired presentation from Commissioner Mehl, the council passed the proposal. A motion will be drafted for July’s meeting.
The citizens of Bozeman continued to cite community and public health as main reasons for adopting the bond policy, with many noting that trails and parks are the most democratic amenity available to them.
For much of the audience, Bozeman’s trails and parks are what make the city such an attractive place to live, open businesses and raise families, and many at the meeting evening expressed the opinion that an immediate investment is essential to expanding the city’s already excellent outdoor resources. Now, it’s the responsibility of the council to decide whether the citizens of Bozeman should be allowed to tax themselves to pay for this popular initiative and further improve the quality of life this city enjoys.