By Evelyn Pyburn-For the Yellowstone County News
In something of a surprise move, Yellowstone County Commissioners tabled – in a 2-1 vote — the issue of advancing the proposed Target Economic Development District (TEDD) for Lockwood, until the Lockwood community comes to some kind of resolution regarding another issue that could impact the prospects for building the Northend Bypass.
Commissioner John Ostlund made the motion saying that he didn’t want to move forward in approving a Resolution of Necessity for the TEDD until the Lockwood community came together with a solution to remove a “cloud of uncertainty” over the Bypass, which was recently created with the demand by some Lockwood citizens to include a “bike trail” in its design. Addressing that issue could reopen the Decision of Record (DOR) for the Bypass which was reached after years of planning for what Ostlund called “the most important highway connection in the state.”
Commissioner Jim Reno also voted to table the resolution for different reasons, having mostly to do with the prospect of the Lockwood School District and other taxing jurisdictions, losing future tax revenues with the implementation of a tax increment finance district, which would be part of the TEDD.
Commissioner Bill Kennedy voted in support of the TEDD and in opposition to the motion to table the resolution, saying “I have a problem tabling the project and holding it almost as blackmail … a form of stopping everything until what one commissioner wants is passed.” He said he believes the TEDD is important to Lockwood to have planning and address future infrastructure needs.
Big Sky Economic Development Authority (EDA) Director Steve Arveschoug asked the commissioners to at least set a future date when they will revisit the issue. He suggested 30 days, and the commissioners said they would consider the request at a future meeting. The EDA has shepherded the proposal of a TEDD through the process to the point of asking for the Resolution of Necessity, which declares an infrastructure deficient area in the county, and calls for investment in that area to address the needs. The resolution is needed to move on to the next step in the process of creating a TEDD, which involves setting boundaries, developing a plan and imposing zoning. The action the commissioners were considering on Tuesday would not create a TEDD.
The TEDD is viewed by EDA and other economic development proponents as necessary to help develop an industrial park in Lockwood, which would help entice businesses to locate and expand here in the future. EDA conducted a feasibility study to identify the best location for an industrial park in the county, last year. The Lockwood location, which would encompass the Trailhead Commerce Park, was identified as the preferred location based, in part, upon the fact that it will eventually be served by an access ramp of the proposed Bypass. Economic development of the area would be delayed if the Bypass DOR were re-opened, and several Lockwood business people wrote a letter of concern, to the commissioners, about that possibility.
Ostlund also voiced strong concern with the issue which was raised last week by Nic Talmark, Chairman of the Lockwood Pedestrian Safety Council. He said his group was alarmed in realizing there is little provision in the proposed Bypass plans to accommodate pedestrians and bicyclists. (See accompanying article in this issue of the Yellowstone County News). They were told that adding a separated lane for pedestrians would add about $7 million to the cost, which would have to be borne by the county.
The concern comes quite late in the process of planning the Bypass, since the DOR– the official approval of the plan, which took many years — was issued last July, Ostlund pointed out.
Ostlund said that there is little chance in getting the transportation agencies to cover the cost of a “bike trail,” given that the federal transportation bill lacks enough funding to meet all the needs, as it is. And, the county has many other demands upon its budget, including the need of building an addition for, and funding the maintenance, of the jail.
Otherwise, Ostlund said, “I think a TEDD district is a good deal for Lockwood,” but so is the Bypass, he said – in fact the concept of the Bypass was started by Lockwood citizens.
Reno commented, “You have the wrong audience. We are not a board of directors for a lending institution; we are the board of county commissioners for the taxpayers. We need to stop going down this road of asking taxpayers for the development of raw land.” He pointed out that just $10 million – a relatively modest sum — in improvements within a TIF, would mean lost revenue to the Lockwood School District of $109,409 a year. It would mean a loss of $31,605 to the Lockwood Fire District.
“It is odd to hear private developers asking for government help,” Reno continued, “They normally ask for less.” He said that he thought development would come to the area without a TEDD. “Show me an urban area where business at an on-off ramp has not happened,” he said.
“For me to get on board, I need letters of endorsement from all the taxing jurisdictions saying they support it,” said Reno.