On the Council Agenda: Partnering on a a Law Enforcement Building

Posted on February 1, 2018

In this series, guest columnists write about issues that are being deliberated by their elected body. Kristin Donald, City of Bozeman, MT Finance Director, kicks off the series by writing about a decision on whether to partner with the county on a new law enforcement building. Sign up to write about your agenda items.

Did you ever have that roommate in college who was sometimes a challenge to live with? If not, you might have been that roommate. Imagine exploring the idea of buying a house with that roommate. In certain ways it makes financial sense and in other ways it gives you a bad feeling.
This January, the Bozeman City Commission considered two options: (1) go into debt with its roommate or (2) go out on their own. Both options had positive and negative aspects and both would require selling it to the citizens.
Currently the City of Bozeman shares a law enforcement and court building with Gallatin County. The building is a former high school which was converted to meet the needs of police, sheriff, municipal and county courts. There is no longer space to accommodate these functions and the building is structurally running out of time. The City tried unsuccessfully to build their own police and municipal court building. Following the defeat, the City and County partnered on a joint project with a larger price tag and that measure failed.
Gallatin County started to explore other options, and without City input, selected an option. The County then came to the City to discuss the strategy to build a building for police and sheriff first, and the courts later. A short turnaround time to get the item on the June ballot was a challenge for the project.
At the same time, the City had an additional need to build a new fire station so the city decided to explore a solo project with a municipal court, police and fire station. Reluctantly the County allowed the city time to explore the option. The City re-designed an old design to include a fire station and work with Gallatin County on a law enforcement building.
Much like “that roommate” in college, there were issues. The County is currently suing the City over a special improvement district and refusing to pay its share of the assessment. It is hard to consider buying a house with someone who won’t pay the last cable bill because they did not watch TV that much.
On January 22, both options were presented to the City Commission — a joint project with Gallatin County for a law enforcement building and Bozeman Public Safety Complex on city-owned property. As staff, we presented both options without bias. The Commission asked us not to make a recommendation to keep the decision process with them. We presented both projects in the same format, with the same charts and the same assumptions were used in the modeling
However, there was another fun political twist; the roommate forgot to mention that they couldn’t pass the credit check. By law, the County cannot pass a bond measure in a non-primary election without getting at least 30% voter turnout in the last non-primary election. Only 19% has turned out. The County forgot to mention this during joint meetings with the City.
As it stands, the City Commission decided to keep exploring both options. The County option would need to be on the November ballot because of the voter turnout requirement. The saga continues and will be on many agendas…

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