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What's next?: Future of Billings parks unclear after failed bond

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Posted at 6:25 PM, Nov 08, 2023

BILLINGS — A day after Billings votersrejected a $143 million parks bond by a landslide defeat of 69 percent to 31 percent, residents around Billings told MTN the tax increases were just too much to justify.

"I voted against it because I just don’t think we need some $200 million park. I think that this city has other problems and I think we need to address those...I think not knowing the exact cost, but also it feels like we’re in the middle of a gang war right now and that we have other problems that we need to handle and those are the issues that I think people are feeling on a daily basis," Billings resident Jennifer Olsen said outside her home on the South Side Wednesday.

"I was looking at another $160 (a year) for a rec center that I’ll never use. Which I don’t mind paying for a few things for the kids but, good lord, $110 million Taj Mahal? My taxes since 2020, have gone up nearly $900 per year. My sister’s home, her taxes have gone up just this year alone, just the state have gone up $700," said Billings resident Rick Tweden on Wednesday.

Both Olsen and Tweden said while improving the parks would be nice, stopping crime should be the focus.

"They say parks deter crime, but I don’t believe that for a second. We have a ton of parks in this town and online, almost every day you hear about drug use needles being found in parks and none of that being cleaned up," added Olsen.

But where do those who spent years preparing and supporting this go from here?

The idea of separating the rec center and other park projects into different bonds has been broached by some bond supporters, but some feel that last night’s vote said a lot.

"I have a hard time imagining that the rec center would’ve passed by itself or that any of the other park’s projects would’ve passed without the rec center included in that package. The mood of Billings voters and voters around the state is just very against property tax increases at this point," said Jack Jennaway, business advocacy manager for the Billings Chamber of Commerce, on Wednesday.

"Our property taxes are very high and if you can’t handle crime and actual city jobs, then there’s no place for it," Olsen said.

Big Sky EDA director Steve Arveschoug agrees that safety has to be a priority, but that it can’t be the only priority.

"We do need to make an additional investment in public safety, but if that’s all we do, I think we’ve lost our ability to look strategically at where we want our community to go. We need investments in education, investments in mental health, investments in outdoor amenities, all of that is what a successful community does when they look at their community comprehensively," said Arveschoug on Wednesday.

For now, voters have made it clear there isn't enough money for all of it.