3 concepts and lots of room to talk theme of public meetings on facilities project

“The goal is to do it right and do it once.”
By: 
Marlo Pronovost
Thursday, October 10, 2019
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An actual plan may soon be in place to address the county’s 20-year-old need for more office and facility space.

Stillwater County Commissioners and a committee comprised of citizens have spent the last seven months reviewing, researching and crafting three possible concepts that were presented this week in a series of public meetings held in Absarokee, Columbus, Molt, Rapelje, Reed Point and Nye. The final meeting is tonight at the Absarokee Commons at 6:30 p.m.

In Columbus, approximately 40 people attended the meeting Monday, which was opened by Stillwater County Commission Chairman Mark Crago explaining how the committee developed the possible three concepts by looking at all the information possible and assessing the county’s immediate and future needs.

Right out of the gate, Crago told the crowd that two of the concepts meet all of the county’s needs and come in at approximately $28 million. One concept is substantially cheaper at $11.2 million, but does not meet the county’s current needs. (The concepts and a survey can be found on the county’s website at https://www.stillwatercountymt.gov/sites/default/files/fcip.pdf)

Crago also said that the commission and committee do not believe taxes would have to be raised for any of the options, but rather the county would borrow money.

But before going any further in the process, the commissioners want the public’s feedback.

As Commissioner Tyrel Hamilton put it, the public meetings are to see “if we are on the right track.”

And that feedback was sought immediately.

Using Post-It notes, attendees were asked to go look at each one of the three concepts located on large boards, write down any questions and comments and then leave the note stuck to the specific concept. Once everyone had a chance to do that, Crago read each Post-It note out loud and answered question. Some of those questions included the following:

•Can the commission guarantee that taxes will not be raised to pay for the project?

•What if the money runs out before all the phases are complete?

•What if there is an unexpected demand for money after the loans have already been augured?

•Why is the library the last phase in all three concepts?

Crago explained that although he cannot guarantee that taxes will not increase as a result of the project, he believes that won’t happen because of the money already on hand for the project and because the county would borrow the needed funds.

As far as the money running out or being diverted unexpectedly prior to the completion of the project, Crago said the county would simply stop on whatever phase it is and wait until it can continue.

That is one of the reasons, said Crago, that each of the three concepts is broken up into phases.

As far as a new library being the last phase on each concept, Crago said that was a matter of prioritizing based on need. For example, the county currently pays between $65,000 and $70,000 every year in rent and other expenses for off-site county offices.

Surveys were handed out at the meeting regarding the project and are also available on the county website. On the first page of the six-page survey is this:

“We want to be sure we do everything we can to understand how Stillwater County residents feel about the services county government provides, and what we should be doing to plan for, and satisfy the real needs of the county.”

The commission is also working on other forms of distribution.

“We want to reach every mailbox and we are looking at ways to do that,” said Commissioner Hamilton.

Hamilton also said that following the results of the survey and other public input, more public meetings are likely.

At least one citizen expressed thankfulness to have progress on the project.

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