2017 Budget: Parks Department seeks funding to operate Fort Missoula Regional Park

parks

By Martin Kidston

The Department of Parks and Recreation is asking the Missoula City Council to fund a number of new costs associated with maintenance and operation of Fort Missoula Regional Park, as well as a business manager to help recover fees associated with increased use.

Parks Director Donna Gaukler made her pitch to the City Council this week as it begins crafting the 2017 budget. The addition of Fort Missoula Regional Park effectively grows the city’s developed parkland by 27 percent, bringing a number of new costs, including maintenance and the need for a business manager.

“I feel we’ve sufficiently grown to the place where having a business manager that can help with some of the fiscal analysis … is critically important to our fiscal operation and keeping fees low at the gate,” Gaukler said.

Mayor John Engen unveiled his proposed budget last week and is recommending an increase of $182,794 to help Parks and Recreation cover new expenses. However, Gaukler said, that figure is short of what the department actually needs to maintain Fort Missoula Regional Park once it opens.

The department is seeking roughly $350,000 in all – a figure that includes $221,000 to cover maintenance and operation of the new park, $36,000 to launch the park’s enterprise component, and $58,000 to hire a business manager.

“Until we open the facility and accept it, we can use the Parks and Trails Bond, but you can’t use a general obligation bond for ongoing operations once a project has been accepted,” Gaukler said. “Unfortunately, the $182,794 recommended (in the mayor’s budget) is short by $143,030. That number isn’t enough to cover Fort Missoula phase 1 for three-quarters of a year.”

Dale Bickell, the city’s CAO, said Engen proposed $182,000 in new monies to fund the department’s multiple requests. Bickell said the unfunded portion was up to the department to cover by reallocating its resources.

“If parks can figure out how to allocate resources such that it could accomplish as much as it can with $182,000, that was the intention,” Bickell said. “Their total is $350,000. The mayor funded $182,000 of it, and $143,000 wasn’t funded in his budget proposal.”

As presented last week, Engen’s budget recommends a 4.8 percent budgetary increase. The City Council can add or eliminate items from the mayor’s budget and will work to do so over the coming weeks.

Gaukler likened the park’s needs to slices of bread and a jar of peanut butter. The more slices added to the table, the thinner the spread of peanut butter becomes.

The addition of Fort Missoula has effectively left the department spread thin, she said, and without additional funding to address maintenance needs at Fort Missoula, other parks could pay the price.

“When you increase parkland by 27 percent, if we don’t add a fair share of funds to maintain that, we’re going to have to scrape the spread off some of those other parks to Fort Missoula for equal distribution,” Gaukler said.

The council will continue the park’s discussion next week.

Contact reporter Martin Kidston at info@missoulacurrent.com