Lockwood voters approve safety district

2014-02-25T20:11:00Z 2014-02-26T16:33:04Z Lockwood voters approve safety districtBy MIKE FERGUSON and CLAIR JOHNSON mferguson@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

LOCKWOOD — Lockwood voters approved a special district Tuesday to build and maintain pedestrian safety improvements in the Lockwood area.

Nobody was happier than the dozen or so people gathered at the Lockwood home of Brad and Stefeni Freese, who hosted a watch party for some of the volunteers on the "Do It for Dustin" campaign.

Their son, Dustin Freese, was 16 when he was killed Jan. 4, 2013, after being struck by a motorist while walking with a friend along Becraft Lane.

Nic Talmark, campaign chairman of the Friends of Dustin Freese, raised his arms in triumph shortly after 8 p.m. when the campaign received an email with the results from Bret Rutherford, Yellowstone County elections administrator. Tears mixed with smiles were quickly on display on the faces of those gathered to await the results.

The margin was 1,286 to 817 or 61 to 39 percent. Of 3,908 eligible voters, 2,103 — 53.81 percent — cast ballots.

"This is wonderful," Stefeni Freese said moments after Talmark learned the news. "I am over-the-top thrilled. I don't want anyone else to go through what we went through."

"Everyone put so much time and effort into this, hundreds and hundreds of hours," said Talmark, who lives with his wife, Lindsey, and two young children two doors down from the Freeses. "This was a common-sense vote, and it's nice to see people with drive come together to help make this happen."

The permanent district will have the authority to levy up to 10 mills in property taxes, raising about $212,000 a year. Taxes on a home valued at $100,000 will increase about $13 a year.

The boundaries of the taxing district voters approved are the same as the boundaries of the Lockwood school district. The levy will begin in 2015.

No organized group formed to oppose the district.

Freese said the group "fought harder" after a proposed sewer district failed in Lockwood last year. The campaign raised about $4,000, including a donation of $2,100 from Western Security Bank.

"We felt really good going door to door," she said. Volunteers tried to gauge support from voters; those who indicated the most support were reminded — sometimes more than once — to turn in their ballot, Freese said.

Those who opposed the measure were not given any follow-up help, she said with a smile.

"Lockwood pulled together to get something accomplished," she said.

Freese praised the dozens of volunteers who distributed literature and who spoke up during a pair of rallies. She said the campaign had been healing for her and her husband.

Yellowstone County commissioners will administer the district, while a citizens committee will be created to make recommendations on projects and proposals.

Talmark said the next step for him will be to try to win a seat on the citizens committee.

Freese said she already has some recommendations for safety projects. In order, they'd be Highway 87, Old Hardin Road and Becraft Lane, where her son was killed.

"We believe these projects will make a difference," she said.

"I'm so glad for Lockwood," said Brandy Dangerfield, who handled communications for the campaign. "This is a step in the right direction to develop Lockwood into a better community."

In December, county commissioners approved holding the special election after communities in Lockwood and public hearings indicated support for creating such a district.

Lockwood is an unincorporated community of about 8,000 people. Growth in the past 10 years has increased safety concerns among residents.

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