Billings will see more than half a million dollars come into city coffers in the next few months through donations, gifts and potential grants, the vast majority of it marked for law enforcement operations.
The largest grant, $231,796, came from the Office of National Drug Control Policy, which has distributed federal drug enforcement dollars to Eastern Montana Drug Task Force for the last 16 years. The Billings Police Department heads up the task force but it consists of seven local and federal law enforcement agencies.
An additional $200,000 was given to the Billings Police Department to fund local service providers that address addiction issues.
But it was a $5,000 grant for a shade structure to be built at Centennial Park that created the most discussion. Centennial Park on 32nd Street West is undergoing a massive rebuild with a portion being convert into a dog park, and council members Frank Ewalt and Roy Neese, who both represent the Heights, wanted to know if the $5,000 had to be spent there.
Ewalt said that High Sierra Dog Park in the Heights has no shade structure and suggested that half the grant could be diverted there.
Mike Whitaker, director of Billings Parks and Recreation, explained that the grant was sought after by the Friends of Billings Dog Parks and awarded by the Treacy Foundation in Helena specifically to help build the shade structure at Centennial so the money would have to be spent at the West End dog park.
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Following the discussion on parks, the council voted to appoint Roy Neese as the new mayor pro tempore.
Bill Cole, the city's mayor, is assisted by a deputy mayor and then a mayor pro tempore when the deputy mayor is unavailable. The deputy mayor, currently council member Mike Yakowich, and the mayor pro tempore are appointed by a vote of the council. The previous mayor pro tempore was council member Chris Friedel, who left office at the end of the year.
Neese was appointed with a 7-4 vote; the four opposed were two recently elected council members Kendra Shaw and Danny Choriki, and Denise Joy and Penny Ronning. The vote seems to highlight early dividing lines forming within the new council.
The final discussion of the evening focused on the city's search for a new city hall, municipal court and police station. Late last year the council voted to enter negotiations with WC Commercial, owner of the Stillwater Building, where the Yellowstone County Commissioners and other county departments currently have their offices.
A new committee comprised of city staff, council members and an architect will begin those discussions in the new year. Council decided Monday that one council member from each of the city's five wards would serve on the committee. The council will formalize the arrangement at next week's meeting.