Congestion on the turf at Fort Missoula recently prompted an alliance of kickers, ruggers and disc tossers to push for an $8 million levy—enough to build additional playing fields at the park, and more. In order to become a bona fide bond measure on the upcoming primary ballot, the proposal required a prompt public hearing so that it could pass through the proper legislative channels.
The Missoula City Council, however, threw a set-up block on the park initiative, denying the possibility of a public hearing by a 7-5 vote at its February 25 meeting.
The rarely executed shut-out play was due to a host of funding requests that will be on the June 3 ballot, Council members say. In other words, the Council majority wants to clear the way for measures that, in their eyes, have loftier priorities—chief among them, a request to bankroll a new police station.
“There are so many bonds coming down the pipeline now. I think people are going to say, ‘Wait a minute, how many of these am I supposed to support?’” said Councilman Dick Haines, who voted against the public hearing.
Councilman Jason Wiener, a key supporter of the regional park proposal, protested its untimely demise. “To hold a hearing is kind of pro forma,” he said. “That’s not usually where things die.”
Council member Bob Jaffe voted in favor of holding the hearing but voiced skepticism that park plans could emulsify in time for the election. Jaffe said he also wanted to avoid the criticism that surfaced after voters in 2003 approved an $8.1 million bond measure to fund Missoula’s Aquatics Project. Critics said the ballot language for that measure didn’t accurately describe the project’s scope or cost.
Wiener and Mayor John Engen—another regional park supporter—challenge that assessment. The language in the proposal submitted by Friends of Fort Missoula—the group of field sports enthusiasts who are backing the proposition—is already sufficient to curb any funding bungles, they say.
“Seven people made up their mind, even before they heard the issue, that it wasn’t worth their time,” Weiner laments.
So is the deal dead? Friends of Fort Missoula doesn’t think so. The group plans to continue stumping for the park expansion. According to city officials, they can still petition to get the item on the June ballot, though the timing makes it unlikely they’ll succeed.
“By all means we’re not dropping it,” group founder Charlie Vandam says. “I would like to think we’re a community that can work multiple projects at one time.”