$25,000 budget increase approved for law enforcement
Thu, 08/27/2015 - 2:31pm admin
New hospital addition proposed in place of local ice rink
By Andrew Turck, Big Horn County News
The Hardin City Council agreed at an Aug. 18 meeting to spend an additional $25,000 on law enforcement for this year, bringing their total law enforcement commitment to $450,000 of more than $2.6 million, split between the city and Big Horn County. This decision occurred four weeks after a July 21 meeting, where the council turned the county’s request for an increase down, questioning whether they should be the ones to foot the bill.
“Let me state this very clearly, I think the sheriff’s department in this town does an awesome job; that’s not what I’m complaining about,” Alderman Clayton Greer said in the July 21 meeting. “It’s just, at what expense? Speaking for my constituents, that’s a lot of money.”
The previous two-year agreement between the city and county on this issue – where the county paid 84 percent, or $2,175,000 and the city paid 16 percent, or $425,000 – expired on June 30.
The current agreement, rather than being for two years, only covers the 2016 fiscal year.
“We’re not going to be able to do that next year,” Greer said of the cost increase during the Aug. 18 meeting. “That’s going to have to be up to the citizens. We’ll have to bring that up to the voting public.”
In an Aug. 13 letter to Mayor Jack Lane and the city council, the county commissioners stated their “financial situation is severe” and they were unable to accept the city’s July 31 offer of “old law enforcement equipment.”
“Taxable values are down…revenues are down and cash balances are down,” the letter stated. “Therefore, we must maintain our position to accept nothing less than the additional $25,000 increase for law enforcement services for [fiscal year] 2016.”
Mayor Jack Lane said the county wished to continue meeting with city officials regularly on the issue of law enforcement funding to iron out future problems before they arrive to the council.
“We’re trying to get ahead of the curve,” he said at the Aug. 13 meeting.
City Attorney Robert Snively suggested that the council visit with the commissioners come February or March, and set up a public vote before the next June 30 cutoff date.
The council decided to consider a proposal by the Big Horn Hospital Association to replace land currently designated for a city ice skating rink in South Park with a new physical therapy unit for the hospital. The addition, according to hospital board member Thor Torske, would hopefully be “no more” than $3 million and take up 20,000 square feet.
City taxpayers, he added, wouldn’t foot the bill for the facility.
“If we build this, we’re going to build it for the public,” he said. “For our patients, but for the public.”
To give the council an idea of what the new building would look like, Torske gave them a virtual tour of the Mountain View Hospital in Idaho Falls, Idaho, a two-story facility. The proposed addition, he said, would be open to the public for a nominal fee – not designed to make a significant profit.
“If you notice, it’s a walking track upstairs; a lot of equipment,” he said, showing the council the hospital’s weight machines and treadmills. “There’s patient exam rooms, a physical therapy laboratory and lunch room.”
Unlike the Mountain View Hospital, Torske said, the proposed facility would not have a swimming pool, as that niche is already provided by the Hardin Community Center.
Torske said they have received surveys from the Healthy Hardin Coalition, an organization who established the Fair Loop Trail and River Valley Farmer’s Market, and the responses favored the new addition.
Though the majority responses from the council and public were positive, Alderman Harry Kautzman and another Hardin resident spoke against the proposed facility.
“Before you get too far, first of all, I’m not in favor of giving you any more property off the park,” Kautzman said before Torske managed to start the tour. “When we originally gave park property to the hospital, we told them we wouldn’t give them any more, so don’t come back and ask.
“We said, probably what’s going to happen is you’re going to come and end up with the whole park, and that’s what we didn’t want to happen.”
Lane and the aforementioned resident – a heart patient – agreed that the physical therapy unit would be beneficial for people of their age, but the heart patient said the kids were more important than a building.
Alderman Karen Molina, who with Lane was in favor of the facility, said last winter, she had only seen about three kids use the rink.
The next city council meeting is set for Sept. 8.