Beer with a Councilor goes down smoothly

Story And Photo By By Kathleen Gilluly
Thursday, September 6, 2018
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Heidi Sparks, left, takes questions from Laurel residents at ‘Beer with a Councilor,’ Thursday, Aug. 30 at High Plains Brewery. The occasional gatherings give folks in Laurel the opportunity to have direct conversations with the city’s policy makers.

The lure of after-work beer and the opportunity to voice their opinions brought a contingent of Southside and other Laurel residents to High Plains Brewing for ‘Beer with a Councilperson’ Thursday, Aug. 30. Heidi Sparks, a representative of Ward 1 and a resident of the Southside, promised to take citizen suggestions to the entire council. Most of the Southside residents were concerned with infrastructure issues, including pot-hole filled streets, no rain gutters, no sidewalks in some areas, and sidewalks that do not meet the Americans with Disability Act requirements. Many of the folks who attended the Outlook sponsored event and live in the Southside neighborhood are long-time residents .

Virginia Gomer brought a list of what she’d like to see happen in the city and on the Southside.

“I’ve asked about this previously,” she said. “We should have curbside recycling like most places in Montana do now. I’ve asked and the city said it wasn’t allowed because the trucks would damage the streets.” As she pointed out, a number of trucks pass through her neighborhood anyway and residents would have to be willing to pay for the service.

Southside resident Cindy Degele had many of the same complaints as other residents, but she was particularly concerned that there are no ADA sidewalk ramps.

“As someone who is disabled and supposed to be doing physical therapy, I feel trapped,” she said. “I can’t walk in the streets for exercise or on the sidewalks which are also in need of replacing. I’m trapped in my own home.”

Councilwoman Sparks took detailed notes on all the issues and noted that sidewalks are the responsibility of homeowners, but that there is a program allowing the cost be spread over several of taxes

years .

“Most of what I’m hearing comes down to funding,” she said. “There is a lot of infrastructure that needs updating. It takes the city two years to plan and save enough for every major street project.” The councilwoman explained that the city is working with Yellowstone County commissioners to apply for state funding for W. Railroad St., one of the roads mentioned as needing work.

An issue brought up by Laurel School Trustee Doug LeBrun was shooting in Riverside Park. He said his kids and many others involved in national programs no longer have a range. Another woman told Sparks that those children could be covered under the program’s insurance. LeBrun agreed to bring the issue to a council meeting soon.

LeBrun also explained why taxes for residents in the school district will be going up about $25 per $100,000 home.

“This is no one’s fault,” he said, “but the school district gets 54 percent of it’s funding from CHS. Because of the way the state resolved CHS’ taxes that were under protest, residents will have to pay back some of the money already spent.” He suggested the city look at annexing some of the neighborhoods adjoining the city .

Outlook Designer Evan Bruce is planning another meeting with a councilor from another ward in the near future. To reach him with suggestions for a location, email design@laureloutlook.com or call him at the Outlook, 628-4412.

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