As Bozeman continues to grow rapidly, keeping up with infrastructure and services can be challenging. One way of funding needed improvements comes in the form of property taxes, which voters must approve. The upcoming election on November 2, 2021, has several bonds and measures residents of Bozeman and Gallatin County will need to vote on.
At the September 2021 Chamber board meeting, both the city and the county presented to the board of directors. Directors then voted on what initiatives they would support and offered reasons for those they did not.
Gallatin County residents will vote on a $29 million bond to replace the current Law and Justice Center due to its compromised structural integrity and inadequate space. The proposed bond would allocate money to construct a Gallatin County Courts Building to house district and justice courts, clerks of court, building security detail office, youth court and probation, self-help law center, standing master, and a public community and jury assembly room. The cost to homeowners will range from $30-$80 annually.
The Chamber board voted to support the $29 million courts building.
“After considering multiple failed attempts to do a joint facility with the city, voters made it clear they did not want that high of a price tag. We commend the county commissioners in putting together a scaled-back facility that will meet current demands and expansion into the future at a very conservative price tag,” Chamber President and CEO Daryl Schliem said.
One important factor the board considered in supporting the bond is that Bozeman is receiving a fourth District Judge. Although the state pays for this position, the local community is obligated to provide space for that judge. The third district judge’s court is currently in what was supposed to be a temporary fix. However, the expense of another temporary structure would be $10-12 million and is not a permanent solution.
“The board feels that the time is now, the price is right, and we have a need to uphold our obligation of representing our district judges by building a new facility,” Schliem said. “Renovation of the current facility is not a viable solution. Therefore, we strongly encourage Gallatin County voters to approve the bond.”
For the City of Bozeman, the Chamber board looked at each of the three ballot items separately. The Fire Station 2 Bond proposes $6.7 million to move the fire station currently on 410 S. 19th to the Montana State University Campus. The current building was built in 1974 and does not meet the national standard of a 6-minute emergency response time. The new facility aligns with the Fire Protection Master Plan guidance and will serve the current and future population and have more room for increased staff.
In a split vote, the board lends their support for this bond due to the shared belief that the primary role of government is public safety, and fire falls under that role. In a partnership between MSU and the City, they have worked out a lease agreement to build the new fire station.
“The chamber encourages the city to sell the 19th Avenue fire station and apply any proceeds to the project to retire the debt faster,” Schliem said.
The chamber board voted not to support the initiative regarding the $2.2 million facilities renovation bond, which would repair and upgrade the Bogert Pool, the Bozeman Swim Center, and the Lindley Center.
“Several factors came into play in the discussion by board members,” Schleim explained, “tax fatigue, current park levy bonds that just passed, and discussion about using revenues from the pool and Lindley Center for ongoing maintenance.”
The board also felt it would be unnecessary during this time when workforce/affordable housing is a top priority.
The Community Housing Levy, which would provide a dedicated stream of funding to address the community housing issues, also did not gain support from the board. After much discussion, the board felt it was contradictory to the workforce/affordable housing dilemma by adding another tax to a house that is already not affordable. Although the levy would generate approximately $1 million per year, it is a permanent tax that never goes away. The board was also concerned that there was no specific affordable housing project the money would be applied to as of the time of the meeting. Further, the board felt $1 million is not enough money to begin to solve the affordable house problem, and that a regional approach including public/private partnerships would be more beneficial. While they felt it was a needed tool, it’s not one we can ask homeowners for right now.
Overall, the board recognizes the tax fatigue and increasing business expenses that its members are seeing but feels the Law and Justice Center and Fire Station 2 Bond are public safety necessities.