A bond measure to fund additional improvements at MetraPark is unlikely to proceed, given that two of the three Yellowstone County commissioners are against it.
In recent weeks, the Billings Area Chamber of Commerce had been promoting the idea of up to three bond measures that would pay for upgrades to the Rimrock Auto Arena, regular maintenance at MetraPark and improvements to the backside of the grounds.
But the chamber met with each of the commissioners individually and found that two of them — Jim Reno and John Ostlund — didn't support any bond measure. Commissioner Bill Kennedy said he favored some sort of bond measure.
The commissioners have the authority to put bond measures on the countywide ballot, but they can also block efforts to do so. This summer, the commissioners voted against putting a mill levy increase on the ballot for the city-county Planning Division. The City Council put the mill levy increase just on city ballots, but the measure narrowly failed last week.
Reno and Ostlund said now is not the time to be raising taxes, even if voters would have agreed to it.
“I just think the commissioners are appropriately restoring the Metra with a lot of upgrades. We're doing it with tax money and a little borrowed money we have,” Ostlund said. “I don't believe in good conscience I could go to the taxpayers and ask for a tax increase. I think the public's hurting, and we're here to be responsible with the tax dollars and I'll do just that.”
Chamber President John Brewer said Thursday that the chamber was still hashing the issue out internally and didn't have a formal position. Brewer didn't return calls on Friday.
Kennedy said Brewer told him that the chamber wasn't planning to pursue the bond measures any further.
Kennedy said he wanted to put an infrastructure bond measure before voters, but knows he doesn't have the votes to place it on the ballot.
A tornado heavily damaged the Rimrock Auto Arena in June, and county officials have commissioned an updated master plan for the large, mostly unused area behind the grandstands. In addition to maintenance bonds, the chamber was considering bonds to fund remaining upgrades to the arena, as well as to implement parts of the backside master plan.
Kennedy said there are about $3 million in unfunded arena upgrades that are necessary. They include more elevators and a sky bridge from the upper parking lot to the arena to replace the covered stairway damaged by the tornado. The upgrades would improve accessibility to MetraPark, which Kennedy said is sorely needed.
“I'm not looking for fluff. I'm looking for infrastructure,” Kennedy said. “I would've looked at a bond issue to pay for the infrastructure needs, but the bond issue would've had to address those needs. Actually, less than $3 million on a bond issue wouldn't have been bad.”
Kennedy said he would prefer to let voters decide for themselves.
“The public wants a say,” he said. “I would've liked to have the voters say if they wanted that or not.”
Contact Matt Hagengruber at email@example.com or 657-1261.