Martin Kidston

(Missoula Current) Missoula County will relinquish ownership of certain parcels in the airport Development Park and the city will assume the maintenance of those parcels under an agreement struck between the two governments.

The city annexed most of the Development Park in 2018, though it excluded several small pockets identified by the county as parks. The so-called parks include landscaped boulevards and storm-water basins and haven't been adequately maintained.

“While the area was annexed into city, the parkland remained in county ownership,” said Emily Brock, director of lands and economic development for the county. “The property owner's association was responsible for managing the parklands, but this organization has pretty much dissolved, or is pretty much non-functional. The parklands haven't been maintained.”

In the agreement, which Brock described as a diplomatic outcome, the city will accept the parkland so long as the systems are operating “effectively upon transfer.” To get there, the agreement requires a stormwater assessment, which is expected to cost around $122,000.

The county said it has lease agreements within the area to pay for the assessment. It may also have revenue from the sale of unneeded stormwater and park facilities in the area to cover the cost of improvements.

While the county may not have to take such steps under current law, “We've chosen to be diplomatic instead of adversarial with the city,” Brock said.

Taking the diplomatic road

When the city annexed the area in 2018, it left the park system to the county. But recently, the Legislature passed a law that will require the city to accept all properties when it annexes anything in the future.

The agreement struck between they city and county “cleans things up,” Commissioner Josh Slotnick said, and it makes the city's past annexation fit with current law.

“Doing this brings us into consistency with current law,” he said. “These little parks are islands. They shouldn't be ours to manage. They should be the city's to manage.”

The city has a number of landscaped boulevards of its own, and many of them aren't maintained. In some parts of Missoula, they've become overgrown with weeds and any trees that once were planted are gone and were never replaced.

Still, the boulevards and stormwater basins in the Development Park will now be the city's responsibility. The county can walk away once the assessment is finished, and any deferred maintenance is completed before transfer.

“This is a big deal. They've worked diplomatically to get us to this agreement to transfer these to the city to make them right,” said deputy county attorney John Hart.

While the county could have taken an adversarial approach with the city given the change in state law and the city's annexation of all other properties within the Development Park, taking the diplomatic road could come in handy moving forward.

Chet Crowser, director of Community and Planning Services for the county, said a number of other city-county agreements could be pending – and they could prove challenging.

“We'll need to revisit the inner-local for Fort Missoula Regional Park in the very near future, and we also could be in a situation where we may be in similar conversations with the city around Marshall Mountain,” Crowser said. “It's another reason why we wanted to put a good foot forward in negotiations with the city in trying to hopefully see similar success with those future agreements. There could be difficulty in figuring out who does what and what those commitments are.”