Gallatin County voters on Tuesday defeated a bond issue to build a new Law and Justice Center in Bozeman, forcing commissioners back to the drawing board to find a way to make the project palatable to voters in the future.
Had it passed, the $59 million bond issue would have funded construction of a 129,000-square-foot building in Bozeman to house the sheriff's department, county attorney's and coroner's offices, victims services, and district, justice and youth courts. The proposed 129,000-square-foot building would have cost an estimated $65 million, with $6 million provided by the county.
"That was obviously disappointing to us," said Commissioner Joe Skinner. "We spent a lot of time coming up with a really good solution."
Skinner said commissioners hadn't really talked about what they would do in the event that the bond issue was defeated, but added that "doing nothing is not an option." Officials have said that the existing Law and Justice Center is too small and doesn't meet current safety standards.
Voters also shot down a proposal to make county elections nonpartisan. Skinner said he was a bit surprised because he had heard so much support for the measure, but he said the outcome didn't make much difference to commissioners either way.
In addition to the county measures, voters in the western part of the valley cast ballots for their city and town representatives.
In Belgrade, Mayor Russ Nelson and Ward 3 Councilmember Jim Simon were re-elected to their seats, for which they ran unopposed.
Michael Meis, 37, defeated Renae Mattimoe for the Ward 1 council seat being vacated by Anne Koentopp. Meis, who has been an active member of the Belgrade Chamber of Commerce for several years and currently serves as chamber board president (his term expires at the end of the year), advocates supporting business development to bolster the city's tax base.
"We really need to look at policies to entice and grow business in the community and connect it to our schools and neighborhoods," he said. "There's a lot of challenges and a lot of opportunities coming up for Belgrade."
Jim Doyle, 50, who has served as the Ward 2 representative since he was appointed last November, thanked voters for returning him to the Ward 2 seat, which was also sought by challenger Charlynn Malcolm.
"I'm looking forward to dealing with the growth of the city while keeping Belgrade's character," Doyle said Wednesday.
Managing growth was the most-voiced concern expressed by all candidates across the valley, including in Manhattan, where Betsy Mancuso, 55, and Callie Hamilton, 34, unseated incumbents Greg Dietz and Steve Gonzalez in the Town Council race.
"I want to preserve the unique quality and character this town has," said Mancuso. "The current council has done a lot very well, and I want to join and help keep a safe, family-friendly community."
Hamilton attributed her victory to her longtime involvement in town affairs. She said her primary goal is to address growth issues more proactively and intentionally, so that the council takes the lead on addressing problems before they are brought forward by citizens.
In Three Forks, Mayor Sean Gifford, 37, was elected to finish the unexpired term of his predecessor Stephen Hamilton, despite challenges by Gene Townsend and Carl "Bud" Mohler, Jr. Gifford has served as mayor since being appointed to the seat by the City Council in June.
Gifford said he had anticipated a "pretty close race," and he was somewhat surprised by his decisive victory. He said he intends to keep on with "more of the same" work he has been doing to address issues that send growth outside the city limits, where it puts strain on city services without adding to the tax base.
"Growth is coming our way - we might as well steer it in the direction we want," Gifford said.
City Council incumbent Debra Mickelberry, 59, who won re-election on Tuesday, agreed.
"We're trying our best, but a lot of times our hands are tied because growth happens in Broadwater County and we don't get the tax dollars," she said.
Steve Dahl, 59, who has served on the council for seven months, also was returned to his seat by the voters. The 22-year Three Forks resident said he plans to join his colleagues in tackling growth challenges.