Madison Valley Parks District to go before voters

Madison County commissioners voted last week to put the formation and funding of a Madison Valley Parks and Recreation District on May’s school election ballot.

If approved by voters, the district would be funded by a three-mill levy, which would raise approximately $180,000 a year, said Madison County Commissioner Jim Hart in an interview Tuesday.

The idea for a Madison Valley Parks and Recreation District first came up about three years ago when different groups around Ennis began looking for some extra funding, Hart said.

In the Madison Valley, several groups are focused entirely or in part on things that could benefit from a parks and recreation district, he said.

Madison County currently has parks districts in both the Sheridan and Twin Bridges area, said commissioner Dave Schulz.

The Sheridan Parks District helps fund the Sheridan pool and the Twin Bridges Parks District helps with the riverside park, Schulz said.

Hart thinks a Madison Valley Parks and Recreation District could be used to help some ongoing projects as well as some community groups looking to expand recreational activities in the area.

For instance, the Ennis Lions Club operates Lions Club Park and the town owns the property. Funding for the parks district could help the club with improvements to the park or with operations, Hart said.

Another example is the Madison Valley Aquatic Center group, which is raising money to build a facility. It could potentially use funds from the park district as seed money or matching funds for other grants, he said.

If formed, the Madison Valley Parks and Recreation District will have a seven-member board comprised of people from across the district, including the Big Sky area, which will be included in the district, Hart said.

The district boundary will be the Ennis School District and that includes the Madison County portion of the Big Sky area.

However, homeowners in Big Sky aren’t really excited about being a part of the Madison Valley Parks and Recreation District, said Mary Jane McGarity, executive director of the Big Sky Owners Association.

“Folks on the mountain can’t really access any improvements in Ennis or Virginia City,” McGarity said.

It’s not that people in Big Sky don’t support parks and trails, she said. In fact, the BSOA has tried and failed to pass a parks district.

“Ideally we would like to see a Big Sky Park District,” McGarity said.

Her preference would be that Hart and the commissioners carve the Big Sky area out of any Madison Valley Park District, she said.

However, Hart thinks the Big Sky people could use the Madison Valley Parks and Recreation District to their advantage.

They could potentially use the money to help with improvements to parks or trails that benefit the people within the district, even if the improvements are outside the district, he said.

McGarity isn’t convinced that money raised in the district can be spent outside the district boundaries.

“We’re just hoping that Madison County isn’t tied to using the Ennis school district boundary as their park district boundary,” she said.

But for people and groups within the district, the money could really help, said Madison County Planning Director Charity Fechter.

Groups within Madison Valley have a difficult time coordinating their efforts, Fechter said.

The parks district board would be able to help the groups coordinate and would be able to take a comprehensive look at the district’s parks and recreation needs, she said.

Ultimately, the board would be able to look at linking different parks and communities together, Fechter said.

“All of a sudden you’re linking facilities in these various communities and they become accessible to more people,” she said. “It’s a comprehensive look at the parks and recreation needs.”

The Madison Valley Parks and Recreation district will by on the ballot May 3. If it is passed, the county commissioners will need to work out a few details such as how different groups and communities are represented on the board and how money will be allocated, Hart said.

Some people have suggested the Big Sky area get more membership on the board since most of the property value (and therefore the most tax revenue) in the district would be from the Big Sky area, he said.

The main thing is that groups and communities in the parks district look at this as an opportunity to help them get a leg up with grants and other funding, but not necessarily as a funding mechanism for an entire project, Hart said.

Commissioners will continue to be interested in public input as the process moves forward, he said.

To contact the county commissioners, call 843-4277.

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