A bill to revise state property tax exemption laws to add public parks operated by nonprofit groups — a bill introduced by 10 Billings legislators to allow for the continued development and expansion of John H. Dover Memorial Park northeast of the Billings Heights — got a hearing Thursday in the Senate Taxation Committee.
“This project is the most amazing project I’ve ever seen,” said Mike Penfold, field program director of Our Montana. “They have no overhead. Every dollar goes into work, and hundreds of volunteers do the work that government can’t do.”
House Bill 442, which has already been approved by the House of Representatives, allows for a parcel up to 500 acres in each Montana county operated by a nonprofit group to be exempt from property taxes.
Bill sponsor Rep. Virginia Court, D-Billings, said park proponents and its numerous volunteers — the Yellowstone River Parks Association — are “excited” about the park’s potential access to Lockwood residents as the park continues to grow.
Jim and Virginia Sindelar, whose land donation spurred creation of the park, plan to donate more land that will bring Dover Park to almost 500 acres. That donation, currently a gravel pit, is planned for development as a lake.
The park is named for Jim Sindelar’s grandfather, the original homesteader on the property along the Yellowstone River.
The existing park already features a dog park and trail system. Five bridges have been constructed.
“We have no employees or office,” Roger Williams, a volunteer with the Yellowstone River Parks Association, told the committee. “We just do things.”
Court said the proposed tax exemption for one 500-acre parcel in each of Montana's 56 counties came about through an amendment proposed by Rep. Jeff Essmann, R-Billings.
“In communities with a lot of subdivisions, you see a lot of tiny parks,” Court said. “People don’t bird watch in them, and there’s no fishing access. We don’t want tiny parks to be part of this bill. We want one large park limited to 500 acres.”
Court praised the generosity of the Sindelars’ donation and the work that volunteers have put in developing the park to date.
“We desperately need another place for outdoor recreation,” she said. “We talk a lot about public-private partnerships, and to me this is the perfect public-private partnership.”