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City of Belgrade considers forming park district

Belgrade’s park haven’t been focused on for some time. A park district that extends out of city limits may be a hard sell unless there are resources within the parks that draw people to the city core.

City considers forming park district
by Dennis Gaub, BELGRADE NEWS Mar 7, 2019

Although Belgrade has an estimated population of about 8,500, almost 40,000 people live in the Belgrade School District, close enough to take advantage of recreational opportunities at city parks.

Belgrade’s coffers, however, don’t contain enough money to build new parks and maintain existing ones to meet that potential demand.

That predicament led the Belgrade City Council to hire CTA Architects Engineering to help create the 2019 Belgrade Parks Master Plan and Growth Policy Update. Residents will get a chance to hear more about the plan and provide input at a public meeting scheduled Thursday, March 14, 5 p.m.-7 p.m. at City Hall council chambers at 91 E. Central Ave.

“All interested community members, business owners and local leaders” are invited, according to a flyer about the event. The flyer said the master plan will evaluate existing and future needs for community parks, trails, facilities and programs such as youth sports.

“Your input will lead to real change in the places you play, work, live, work, live, walk and talk,” the advance material said.

Jim Simon, in his fourth year on the council and a member of the parks board, said Wednesday the concept of more and better parks is in a development stage.

“This is something we’re hoping the growth policy and study will identify as a feasible option” or, alternatively, determine it’s best to stay with the current arrangement, he said, adding that CTA is expected to bring conclusions to the council in about six months.

“The main reason behind the concept is to provide more parks and recreation to people in the school district,” Simon said. Subdivisions outside the city limits but within the school district swell the population getting some level of municipal services to between 38,000 and 40,000 people.

Citywide park districts are not new in Montana; several of the Treasure State’s larger municipalities have them. What’s different about the idea being discussed in Belgrade, however, is having a district that takes in a larger “ring” of affected people outside the city limits. Simon said Havre and Lewistown have created park districts in that vein, and he’s heard that Lewistown’s district has been especially successful.

If Belgrade creates a park district, it would be a separate entity from city government with its own governing board and its own tax base.

“The benefit is that it provides a greater tax and more opportunities. We don’t have much funding (for parks) because our tax base is not large – there’s only about 8,500 people contributing,” Simon said.

Meanwhile, people from the larger Belgrade community come into the city to use the parks and wonder why they can’t be improved.

Source: City considers forming park district