Minutes of the Work Meeting With Sweet Grass Council for Community Integrity 9-15-10
Mayor Stephens opened the work meeting at 6:00 P.M. Others attending are Councilmembers Kevin McCauley, Lori Minette, Randy Rembold, and Justin Ferguson, City Attorney Bill Frazier, and Clerk/Treasurer Gayle McPherson. A list of members of the public that were in attendance is attached to these minutes.
Doug Lair, spokesman about the group, started by saying they are a group that has just fallen together, kindred spirits. People who are concerned about what they see happening in the community as far as spending and prioritization of projects. They have a like minded view about where their government is heading. We need to focus on what is important for our community, and they would like to have an impact on that.
Geof Goble read the group’s mission statement, which is attached to these minutes.
Doug explored the meaning of that statement. He said “we are the guys with the flashlights, and we are going to be shining them into the dark corners”. The reason they are here tonight is because of the Dornix Park project and they have concerns about the scope of the Dornix Park plan and its funding sources. Specifically, they have great concern that the City is taking steps, knowingly and unknowingly, to give up it’s independence.
Geof read a statement from a friend of his in California, who spent many years in city government. He asked her if Agenda 21 and the Sustainability issue are what they appear to be. She said it was already too late for California. The state has passed two major bills which require local jurisdictions to implement sustainability plans by next year or they will not be eligible for any state transportation funding. Most cities receive a majority of their street money from the state, so they are motivated to adopt sustainability plans. The local jurisdiction can also not have any new development until the local government adopts the sustainability plan, which has to be approved by the regional government. There is another layer of government that now exists in the form of a regional entity. All new residential development must be high density.
Doug stated they are connecting dots. It doesn’t take much of a stretch of the imagination to see us moving this way. They want to have the best community possible and have absolutely no qualms about parks but would like to see it within the framework of what we are able to do independently. There are strings attached to all of these outside funds. There is also the moral issue of spending money we don’t have, spending other people’s money. There is a role for Dornix Park, but a reduced vision.
He went on to say, the City bought the Stene property to mitigate a significant environmental liability. The liability is twofold. First there is the effluent from the lagoon, and second there is potential drainage from the old landfill seeping onto the Stene property. That stretch of river has already been classified as something substandard in the Pioneer Technical Report.
City Attorney Frazier interjected that when the City considered purchasing the property, they took into account the Stene family’s hope and view of there someday being a park at the location.
Doug said there is a great riparian area below the bench that presents itself for public access to the river. But it’s a stretch when you expand that to cover an industrial area containing a dump and a lagoon. It’s becoming too broad in scope and they are concerned about taxes and maintenance. They don’t think it’s a bad idea, but it needs to be scaled back, so it’s more in line with our community. Preserving a local natural spot near the river is good for the community, but spending millions on it is not practical. Their point is not to kill the initiative of the FODP, they just want to bring more practicality to it.
Patti Agnew wondered about their view on donations from private foundations. Robyn had a problem with private foundation grants a well, but stated local donations were fine.
Chan Welin asked if the reasons for buying the Stene property were still there, and how the City’s liability would be mitigated by purchasing the Stene property. No one would be living there to use contaminated water, should that problem arise.
Diana stated to her knowledge the old dump has never drained into the river. If water were getting into it, it would produce methane, and testing shows that there is no methane onsite.
She also advised the Pioneer Technical study was not a part of the Dornix Park Master Plan. It was commissioned by the Sweet Grass County Conservation District and Boulder River Watershed Association and paid for with a HB233 grant. The study focuses on floodplain functionality. The SGCCI maintains the study is a part of the Master Plan even though the MP was done two years before the Pioneer Technical study. Members of the Dornix Park Citizen’s Committee did, however, work on the study with the SGCD and BRWA. A disagreement erupted over whether the Pioneer study was part of the Master Plan, despite the two year difference in their creation.
Doug pointed out that the new “green” light bulbs contain mercury vapor, which is dangerous. Barb VanCleve commented the amount of coal burned far outweighs the danger of a light bulb. Doug challenged the Council to dig deeper, regarding funding sources.
Robyn Roberts continued to expand on the Pioneer Technical study issue.
Discussion then turned to whether or not the City has spent money on the park. While Big Timber has spent City money it was grant money from SMC, and not taxpayer dollars. The City also provided a truck, one time, for volunteers to transport garbage picked up off of City property.
City Attorney Frazier entered the conversation by saying he has not taken sides on the issue and tried to remain neutral, but the unending discussion about Dornix Park is getting absurd. The City Clerk and Council have explained over and over again that no City funding has gone into the park with the possible exception of the use of a dump truck. So what if some City money had gone into the park? City money goes into Lion’s Club Park, Boulder Campground, and other city properties. He’s listened to all the discussions and still doesn’t know what the SGCCI’s problem is. It is unclear what they want the City Council to do. The City Council has said no money is going to be spent on Dornix Park without their approval. They have said over and over again, the FODP cannot do any construction or anything else without City approval. This City Council has to approve any expenditure of funds that is made, or construction that is done. He has been to several Attorney conferences around, and this issue is turning Big Timber into a laughingstock around the state. Big Timber is losing business because of this. Two real estate transactions, to his knowledge, have failed because the people did not want to move to a town with this much controversy. In his thirty years of residency he has not seen anything to equal it. It has been stated repeatedly that the city has no intention of spending 20 million dollars there. There have been countless public meetings about what people wanted to do with that property. The Master Plan is a composite list of those ideas, not that it was ever going to be done. We are never going to get anywhere at this rate.
Doug Lair took exception to Bill’s comments, and thanked him for shaming them. They showed up as a group of concerned citizen’s to express those concerns. He stated it was shocking to him that the City Attorney would give them a dressing down for coming before the Council again.
Bill said this discussion is wasting an inordinate amount of the City Council’s time, when they have some real issues to deal with.
Robyn Roberts remarked one of the real issues the City has to deal with is Yellowstone Business Partnership being involved in the park. The park is a pilot project for YBP, to meet their expectations of their greater Yellowstone LEED rating program. A disagreement arose regarding the amount of money spent on Dornix Park.
Councilman McCauley stated SMC donated $52,000 for the City of Big Timber Parks. That money was voted to go to Dornix Park. That money is still money that belongs to the citizen’s of Big Timber.
Diana answered by saying the Hard Rock plan says City park, or sports complex. At that time there was a group trying to get a sports complex started in the area that is now Dornix Park. The money was set aside by SMC for the City but other councils did not use that money. Diana went to SMC and asked if it were possible to expand the park from the top of the landfill? Is there any way we can extend that down to the Stene property and make a park. He said it looked like a good idea, but they had to go through the Hard Rock Mining Board. The Council at that time approved writing a letter to the Hard Rock Mining Board with the request. Stillwater Mining wrote one as well. The HRMB judged that as long as both parties were in agreement it was O.K. to proceed with the plan. The money came and was used for planning and development of the park, as stated in the letter of agreement from the HRMB.
Robyn insisted that the SMC grant was specifically for Lion’s Club Park. City Clerk/Treasurer McPherson read aloud that pertinent portion from the East Boulder Mine Impact Plan addressing the grant. It can be found under Section 5 Part 7, and it states “SMC will pay its proportional share (13.3%) of either a sports complex or improvements to the City Park as a grant. Total estimated costs of the sports complex is $400,000.00 SMC’s share would be $53,200.00”. The amount of the grant was predicated on a $400,000.00 sports complex being built.
Bob Faw commented it seems like the Dornix Park issue is more important than the CT scanner or spending a million dollars on 4th Avenue. Bob praised the Council for doing a lot of hard work to make the City run on the money available. A few people showed up at these other meetings, but when it comes to Dornix Park, it fills the whole building. The Council has done excellent work on the roads.
Shirley Layne is there a way to prevent FODP from going after a private grant? The FODP is an independent organization. They can solicit funds in anyway that is legal. If the Council doesn’t want them to use those funds on the park, they have the veto power to prevent it.
SGCCI is not concerned with private funds. Their only concerns are the scope of the project and the source of funds.
Bill Frazier commented that for a small community such as this one, about the only way it ever gets any of its tax money back is through grants, and admittedly there are conditions. Most of those conditions have to do with accountability. You have to show you are spending the money they way you said you would. You don’t have to accept grants if you don’t want to but it will eventually affect the livability of the City
Mayor Stephens asked if it made sense for all parties to look at the plan and try to pare it down somewhat.
Robyn stated she would only agree if Yellowstone Business Partnership were cut out of any connection with the park.
Diana Taylor said there is no sense changing the plan, it is a good plan. Every single thing in it would have to come before the City Council if it is ever going to happen, whether it is today, tomorrow, or twenty years from now.
Mayor Stephens made the observation that Diana expressed reluctance at modifying the plan and asked if that was correct. Diana referred everyone to Lion’s Club Park and the many changes that have happened over the years, and asked “would you take a beginning project and limit it to nothing, when it could possibly turn into a beautiful park like Lion’s Club Park? If you take away the plan you don’t have a document to work with for the future.
There’s no sense in changing the plan because every single aspect of it has to come before the Council for approval. Kathy Agnew agreed that it would be a waste of time.
At 7:15 P.M. Mayor Stephens thanked everyone for coming and giving their input. Councilman Rembold moved to adjourn at 7:15. Councilwoman Minette seconded the motion. Motion carried by unanimous vote of the Council.
Respectfully Submitted, __________________________
Mark Stephens, Mayor
Gayle McPherson, Clerk/Treasurer