What's next for Riverside, other parks? Laurel ponders next move after levy defeat

2014-08-21T06:00:00Z 2014-08-21T12:58:55Z What's next for Riverside, other parks? Laurel ponders next move after levy defeatBy ZACH BENOIT zbenoit@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

City of Laurel officials are starting to discuss what to do with city parks in the wake of voters rejecting in June a citywide parks district that would provide services and maintain improvements.

“With all the parks we have, we just don’t have a lot of money to take care of them,” said Scott Stokes, chairman of the Laurel Parks Board.

Laurel has 16 city parks, and planned spending on them represents 6.5 percent, or about $275,000, of the city’s $4,229,000 general fund budget for 2013-14.

The levy from the parks maintenance district would have raised about $250,000 annually through property tax increases. Laurel residents voted the referendum down in June by a vote of 884 to 374.

Before June’s vote, Laurel Mayor Mark Mace, who spent several years heading up the parks board, told The Gazette that a survey of residents indicated that most of them preferred the city to sell off any parcels of land it couldn’t develop into parks.

“When people look to cut funds, parks seem to get the ax first,” he said.

Stokes said that at a recent meeting, the parks board and a group of interested parties talked about options for the parks, including selling some of them off.

“It’s just something that’s been talked about,” he said. “It was discussed and nothing’s been sent to the city council and nothing’s been voted on.”

The first park mentioned at that meeting was Riverside Park, the large and historic park south of town that sits on the Yellowstone River and, among other things, has buildings maintained by the Jaycees club, American Legion and the Rod and Gun Club.

Buildings on the property need maintenance repairs, and the city is still working to repair parts of it after flood waters swelled over the banks in 2011, Stokes said.

While Riverside might have taken up much of the conversation at the meeting, Stokes said that no one park is being considered more than others and pointed out that there is still much discussion needed before recommendations, if any at all, are made to the city council.

“There’s none that are a priority and none that aren’t,” he said. “All we’re trying to do right now is see what we should do.”

Stokes expected the process to last at least into the winter before the board, which meets on the first Thursday of each month, has a more concrete idea of where it would like to go.

Copyright 2015 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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