Castle Rock Park

Castle Rock Park is the largest city park in the Heights, at 25 acres. The Parks, Recreation and Cemetery Board is recommending a development plan that includes completing the park.

Gazette file photo

Hammes Co. plans to present its concept development plan on the proposed One Big Sky Center to the Billings City Council during a work session on Dec. 4.

That’s three days after the council is expected to name Billings’ next city administrator. The finalists will be in town Nov. 30 and Dec. 1 for interviews and a public meet and greet, and the council plans to make its decision Dec. 1.

In the meantime, Hammes Co. will offer a monthly project update during Monday’s council work session, which begins at 5:30 p.m. in council chambers at City Hall, 220 N. 27th St.

Also in December, according to the company’s timeline, Hammes Company plans to have an updated agreement with the city in hand based on completion of the concept development plan.

Citizen engagement specialist

Acting City Administrator Bruce McCandless noted in a memo that the council and mayor have been discussing the idea of creating a public information officer for the city “a number of times over the past 20 years. The position has been discussed with different titles, assorted duties and at varying levels of responsibility.”

Recent Community Conversation discussions, he said. “have indicated a need for more information to be distributed about the city, especially through social media.”

Neither Yellowstone County nor School District 2 has such a specialist, but RiverStone Health and Montana State University Billings both do, as do Missoula; Rapid City, South Dakota; and a number of cities similar in size to Billings, including Pueblo, Colorado; Duluth, Minnesota; and San Angelo, Texas.

Advantages to hiring a public information officer, he said, include the ability to address “rumors and questions about local government before they take serious root in the community” and their mission to “proactively produce a positive image for the city, especially in social media.” Drawbacks include most reporters’ preference for dealing directly with department staff and the desire of some council members “to do public relations work themselves whenever policy is involved instead of entrusting it to a staff member.”

If the council wishes to pursue creating the new position, McCandless said staff will “refine the duties and costs” and include the position as a supplemental budget request for the 2018-19 budget.

Building Billings parks

In part because the city has 100 acres of undeveloped and underdeveloped park land, the Parks, Recreation and Cemetery Board is recommending a plan to fund park development paid by an increase in Park District 1 assessment, general fund reserves and cash in lieu payments — payments made to the city by subdivision developers in lieu of donating park space. That fund could contain up to $1 million, according to the board’s presentation included in the Friday packet.

The board’s 10-year vision for development includes these potential projects:

  • Complete community parks, including Centennial, Optimist and Castle Rock parks
  • Complete Poly Vista Park, which will include a Miracle Field and all-inclusive play area. Private fundraising is underway for those concepts.
  • A signature gateway park at Coulson Park
  • Completion of the Marathon Loop
  • Initial bonding for a community recreation center.

The board’s proposal is endorsed by a number of groups, including the Billings Association of Realtors, which wrote the council a letter of support last week.

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City Government Reporter

City reporter for The Billings Gazette.