New trails. More sports fields. A swimming pool. Indoor multi-use space. Municipal recreation programs. A dog park.
Those are just a few of the items on the wish list provided by Belgrade’s citizens when they were surveyed last spring about their vision for the future of their rapidly growing community. The list has been published in a soon-to-be-adopted Parks and Recreation Master Plan that will provide the direction for the development of future of parks and recreation amenities for Belgrade.
Whether and how soon any of the wishes will be granted will depend on available funds, said Steve Klotz, director of the city’s Public Works department that manages and maintains city parks.
“We have all kinds of great things the public wants – trails, interconnecting the parks, bathrooms, and improving underdeveloped parks – but not a lot of money to do it,” Klotz said, adding that his department currently funds one full-time equivalent position to maintain Belgrade’s approximately 112 acres of city parkland, but has no available budget for significant capital improvements.
According to the proposed parks plan, Belgrade offers more parkland acres per capita than the national average, but less parkland than similar cities in Montana, including Livingston, Whitefish and Lewistown. Belgrade also lags behind comparable cities in total park expenditures per capita by more than half in most cases.
“Full-time equivalent employees for Belgrade parks is far below the national average and similar Montana communities,” the document states. “It is recommended that Belgrade increase expenditures and FTE to match their community counterparts before acquiring more parkland.”
The document goes on to propose several possibilities for achieving the vision of the growing, youthful community with an appetite for more recreational facilities and opportunities. Suggestions include:
• Forming a parks department, with a staff member dedicated to acquiring grants and charitable contributions for park development.
• Forming a parks district to maintain and financially support existing parks and to acquire land for new parks and recreation facilities.
• Hiring a parks and recreation director and maintenance staff, who could in turn establish a revenue flow through recreational programming.
The proposals “could look a whole bunch of different ways,” Klotz said. For example, park maintenance could be funded by a levy for an established parks maintenance district, the same way the current street maintenance levy operates.
Establishing the boundaries of the maintenance district would be subject to further discussion, but likely would extend beyond the city limits because a great many people who live outside the municipal boundaries are park users.
“One of the things identified in the plan is that the people living in the school district typically use park facilities like the splash park and skate park,” he said. The proposed parks district identified in the document matches the footprint of the school district, which extends beyond the city limits.
Creation of a different type of district – that is, one that also would be responsible for land acquisition and capital improvements to park facilities – would be subject to further discussion about boundaries, and also about how money would be collected and how it would be used, Klotz said.
Whether any such entity would exist as a governing body separate from city government or as a city department also would be subject to discussion.
The proposal suggests that formation of a parks district be conducted in
partnership with the city of Belgrade and Gallatin County, and that it be governed by a parks district board including a representative from Gallatin County.
After an initial public survey of Belgrade residents was taken in March, citizens were polled again in May to confirm the results. The results of the second survey showed public desire for recreational programming, a parks district and a parks department, according to the document.
Klotz acknowledged that voters have been presented with a number of funding requests for municipal services and capital projects in recent years. Even so, 86% of those surveyed in the spring said they would be willing to pay between $1 and $30 annually to support a parks maintenance district.
Should voters choose not to support a new district, department or staff, the approved document still would serve as a guideline for parks development, Klotz said, but facility improvement and development would happen much more slowly.
Currently, he said, capital improvements in city parks are funded by impact fees or by “cash-in-lieu” payments, which are collected from developers who opt to pay a chunk of money to the city rather than set aside land in their subdivisions for required park development.
Both impact fees and cash-in-lieu payments have to be spent according to a strict set of guidelines for projects that specifically offset growth, Klotz said. For example, such funds might be used to expand or improve bathroom facilities in an existing city park that sees more use as a direct result of a new, nearby subdivision.
Officials can’t count on the sustainability of growth-related revenues, Klotz added.
“Before building really took off, we weren’t seeing a lot of impact fees,” he said.
The city Parks and Recreation and Planning boards have given advisory approval to the plan, which now must be approved by the City Council before it is adopted. A public hearing on the parks plan, as well as the proposed Growth Policy document, will be held at the City Council meeting on Oct. 21 at 7 p.m. The document is available for review at City Hall or on the city’s website.