Relations between the County and the City of Hamilton have been strained over the last couple of years as the two entities crossed paths and sometimes butted heads over various projects. Last week, Hamilton Mayor Dominic Farrenkopf took the initiative by scheduling a meeting with the newly organized three-person Board of County Commissioners to set a new tone for future engagements. It was well received.
The item was placed on the agenda as a “discussion/decision” concerning various projects that the county shares an interest in with the city. But Farrenkopf made it clear that he was not there looking for any decisions about anything. He said that he was simply reaching out to the County Commissioners at the beginning of a new year to just take a look at some of the projects that the city and the county were currently working on together and see what might possibly be completed in the coming year. He said he had picked out the top four projects from the city’s point of view, but that he was also interested in hearing from the commissioners if there were any projects they were looking at that they thought the city might be able to help them with.
The four projects that the mayor brought up for discussion “from smallest to biggest,” he said, were the Fourth of July fireworks display, a potential trail along the railroad tracks through town, the latest addition to the city’s park system along the river, and the Targeted Economic Development District (TEDD) located north and east of Hamilton.
Farrenkopf told the commissioners, “I love the Fourth of July.” He said he took on the annual 4th of July fireworks display, which the City has been sponsoring for some time, as sort of a pet project. He said the city was able, with a lot of donations, to put up $8,000 last year and he thanked the county for matching with $4,000.
He said it is true that both city and county residents attend and it is a great thing for both. But his aim, he said, is to shift that cost away from the city and the county to a point that it is totally supported by donations. He wasn’t sure that was going to be possible this year, so hoped the county would be open to chipping in again if needed. He said he would get back to them with the numbers.
“Hopefully, one day it will be completely funded by the people who enjoy it,” said Farrenkopf.
“The earlier the better,” said Commissioner Chris Hoffman, concerning any potential donation from the county.
Farrenkopf said that he had been working with Bob Cron from the County Park Board and Montana Rail Link on a potential trail along the railroad tracks through town. He said he had placed a few applications and heard some concerns from MRL about the potential impact on entities that lease land from the railroad along the way. He said a fence was being considered and that MRL would like to have the trail not cross the tracks.
The city is also adding land to its system of parks along the river but needs commissioner approval for funds to come from the county’s Open Lands Bond Program.
Commissioner Jeff Burrows said that the commissioners had heard some concerns from neighboring landowners about trespassing issues due to the public’s use of that new parkland. He said the commissioners were considering placing some sort of condition on the release of the funds, addressing the trespassing issue.
Farrenkopf said that the city was looking at establishing a quality trail through the park. He said the city had a plan to put a quality trail through the park that would encourage people to use the trail and not go off and trespass.
The mayor told the commissioners that he was really interested in seeing the Targeted Economic Development District get completed. The county has asked the city to consider extending the city sewer system into the county’s TEDD north of town.
“I would really like to pursue that and see it done,” said Farrenkopf. He said the city had a good history with the Ravalli County Economic Development Authority. He said working with RCEDA they were able to get the city’s Urban Renewal District confirmed and the city’s Opportunity Zone in place in that area north of town.
“There is growth here and we should do it responsibly,” said Farrenkopf. “We can shape the growth to the east and I’d like to strike while the iron is hot. I see it as benefitting all kinds of people in the county.”
“Communication is essential,” said Burrows. “Thanks for coming to us about all this.”
It was agreed that the mayor would meet more regularly than every six to eight months to discuss ongoing projects with the commissioners, especially as they work through the TEDD project.