By consensus Tuesday, the Billings City Council generally approved of a timetable for dealing with five large projects — the Inner Belt Loop, MET Transit bus replacements, parks, public safety facilities and a facilities master plan.
City Administrator Tina Volek proposed — and the council generally agreed on — this timetable for the next three years:
- During the 2017-18 fiscal year, the city will begin using its increased share of the gas tax — about $1.5 million — to begin buying land to construct the $14 million Inner Belt Loop, connecting the Heights to the West End. Construction of the new 911 Communications Center will begin that fiscal year, and the council will decide whether to ask voters for an 8-mill levy to purchase two new buses each year, at a cost of about $450,000 per bus.
- During the next year, 2018-19, the council will look at funding options to complete Centennial, Castle Rock and Optimist parks. During that same fiscal year the council will either fund construction of a new police evidence building or acquire a building that can be converted, such as the Kairos Center at 49 N. 15th St.
- The third fiscal year, 2019-20, could see a general obligation bond issue and operating levy election to build and staff an eighth fire station — possibly in the Heights — and renovate two older fire stations, at 501 S. 28th St. and 1918 17th St. West. A study of fire department facilities needs will be completed during the 2017-18 fiscal year.
If voters approve the 8-mill transit levy, the annual property tax increase for the owner of a $200,000 home will be $21.60.
Volek said the buses serve a diverse population — students, the elderly, people with handicaps and employees who need a ride to and from work each day.
“We believe (replacing aging buses) is important for the workforce,” Volek said.
Completing the three parks would involve boosting Park Maintenance District 1 spending by $500,000 annually, to about $2.5 million. Some council members were hesitant to embrace that concept.
But at least one resident urged the council to work toward finishing Centennial Park at 32nd Street West and St. Johns Avenue, which would feature the city’s second dog park.
The Friends of Billings Dog Parks has ceased fundraising for the proposed dog park there, said the organization's Sue Bressler, and donors are restless because their gifts are not being put to use while city officials decide whether to complete development of the West End park.
“They are upset their money is just sitting there,” she told the council.
Having the council set a three-year timetable will give needed guidance to city staff, Volek said.
“This is very helpful,” she told the council near the end of Tuesday’s work session. “It gives us an idea where we need to go.”
The council is still on track to approve the 2017-18 budget during its June 12 business meeting. The new fiscal year begins July 1.