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Billings residents have been asked to vote on upcoming Parks and Trail bond

Soccer fields at Amend Park
The City of Billings
Soccer fields at Amend Park

The city of Billings is asking voters to approve a $143,000,000 bond in November’s General Election to fund improvements to parks and recreation facilities in the city. This includes the Heights, downtown, south side and west end of Billings.

The project would include improvements to five existing parks, the construction of new parks, and an indoor recreation center on the south side.

Councilwoman Jennifer Owen says she thinks most residents would approve a measure for city parks, but she’s hearing pushback from some constituents in the Heights on the rec center.

“One of my largest concerns is that voters aren't really being told the true cost. The rec center bond is being characterized as a 143 million bond. But that's really just the principal amount. Bonds are debt, which means there's interest costs on top of that. And current projections right now put that at an additional 65 million over the next 20 years. So we’re talking this fall about a 200-million dollar proposal for a handful of projects,” Jennifer Owens said.

Mayor Bill Cole agrees it’s a big ask. He told YPR that the city is finding ways to offset about 60 million dollars of the cost to taxpayers from other sources including private donations, federal grants, the South Billings Urban TIFF dollars, hoteliers and naming rights.

“Our parks are great when the weather is good. But one of the great needs for this recreation center is for the other eight months out of the year. Most communities the rule of thumb is about one for every 50, 000 and we don't have any. We don't have an indoor basketball court, indoor pool, hockey, ice facilities, anything like that, exercise facilities. And it's not just for our youth, but also for our senior citizens,” according to Mayor Bill Cole.

If passed, the City of Billings Parks, Trails and Facilities General Obligation Bond would add 158 dollars per year on a home with a market value of 300-thousand dollars.

This is an all mail-in election. Ballots need to be returned in person or by mail no later than November 7th at 8 p.m.

Orlinda Worthington hosts “Morning Edition” weekdays on YPR. She brings 20 years of experience as Montana television news anchor, producer, and reporter.