North Park

The Billings City Council unanimously approved a 10-year parks master plan during its Monday business meeting.

CASEY PAGE, Gazette Staff

The Billings City Council unanimously approved a 10-year master plan for the city’s parks and recreation program Monday. But it did so with a couple of caveats.

Council members said they want to evaluate the plan’s proposed capital improvements — up to $84.5 million over the coming decade — in the context of adopting the city’s Capital Improvement Plan and the council’s upcoming 2018-19 budgeting process, which begins in January.

And they want to consider adding a work order management system for the parks department to better track, among other items, maintenance costs.

The parks master plan, developed by PROS Consulting of Indianapolis, Indiana, and Peaks to Plains Design of Billings, along with considerable input from both parks staff and the public at large, states that while most of the 505 people surveyed are pleased overall with the city’s parks and recreation offerings, they seek more facilities for walking/jogging/biking, family recreation swimming, picnic shelters, family outdoor fitness and adult water fitness, among others.

At $30 million, an indoor recreation center represents about 36 percent of the recommended facilities spending.

Before the city considers constructing such a facility, it would be wise to first spend up to $100,000 on a feasibility study, said Mike Svets of PROS Consulting.

“You’re not committing $30 million tonight,” he told the council. “We don’t think your parks system is falling apart, but when you make a capital investment, you have to replace it at some point. Your system has hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of assets. In the total value of your system, $84 million is not that much.

“The big consideration,” he added, “is meeting the needs that you aren’t meeting now.”

Two residents offered opinions on the plan. Clark Johnson said he believes that, between an aging population and Montana's cold winters, Billings needs a community center — and he’d be willing to pay more in taxes to help get it constructed.

“If Billings is to grow,” he said, “we need to satisfy new residents with new facilities.”

Connie Wardell said the master plan doesn’t take into consideration some existing facilities, such as pools at Rocky Mountain College and the Billings Family YMCA.

“You’re putting the city in competition with already-existing facilities," she said.

“I want to do something for parks, but I want to do it with other things in mind, like the (proposed police) evidence center, new fire station and additional police officers,” Councilman Larry Brewster said. “I think we have an obligation to discuss that financial impact a little more.”

“It’s going to take a tax increase,” Councilman Shaun Brown said. “There’s really no getting around that.”

“We want people to understand we are not committing any money at this time,” Councilman Dick Clark said. “We’ll look at that during budget time.”

“We’ve still got a lot of work to do — including figuring out how to pay for it,” Councilman Ryan Sullivan said.

Mayor Tom Hanel called the document “detailed and explicit.”

“But there’s no doubt about it,” he said. “It’s going to cost some money.”

Administrator search

By a 9-2 vote, with Sullivan and Councilman Brent Cromley opposed, the council voted to continue the city's contract with its current consultant, The Mercer Group, to help the council find Billings’ next city administrator, a process scheduled to culminate with the Dec. 1 selection.

But the council elected to use a Mercer Group vice president, W.D. Higginbotham, as the project manager, rather than using James Mercer to help guide the rest of the process.

“In order to have a more clean project, we wanted to make a change, and I think this will do that,” Brewster said.

Interim City Administrator Bruce McCandless confirmed that Jeff Mihelich, the deputy city manager and chief operating officer for the city of Fort Collins, Colorado, has withdrawn from consideration.

That leaves four finalists: David Fraser, the former city manager in Boulder City, Nevada; Ron Alles, city administrator in Helena; Greg Doyon, city administrator in Great Falls; and Kevin Smith, general manager of the Truckee Tahoe Airport District near Truckee, California.

They are scheduled to be in town Nov. 30 and Dec. 1 for a series of interviews and a meet-and-greet with the public.

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City Government Reporter

City reporter for The Billings Gazette.