Neighborhood Council 7
Goals and Priorities for 2010
Downtown Police Officer
The downtown of Great Falls has been without the services of a dedicated, community-based policing officer for over a year and the result has been increased crime and an overall detriment to public safety. Neighborhood Council 7 strongly insists that this position be replaced and that the City ensure that this position is fully funded.
Community Based Policing
Neighborhood Council 7 is the most urban part of Great Falls. The challenges faced on the lower North and South sides of town are very different from most of our City’s other areas. Most of the residents of Great Falls come to the downtown at least once per day, and many residents of other neighborhoods come here to work and play. Unfortunately, as the most urban part of town, we have more crime than other neighborhoods.
Neighborhood Council 7 is convinced that community-based policing is the only way to effectively combat crime is areas like our lower North and South sides. We are very concerned that budgetary concerns have led the city to abandon community-based policing for traditional policing and we believe that the City should re-fund these efforts.
As we will discuss below, we feel that the Police Department should not be tasked with functions outside of its main mission. We feel that taking on additional responsibilities, like Animal Control, have been a detriment to the public safety budget and a distraction from the GFPD’s core mission.
The neighborhoods of the Lower North and South sides of Great Falls are communities. Here in the downtown, it is more likely that we know and socialize with our neighbors. We celebrate this part of life in our community.
This familiarity with our neighbors should be able to make Neighborhood Watch a vital part of our community public safety effort. Unfortunately, all of us must to a better job pulling together. Neighborhood Council 7 is committed to supporting Neighborhood Watch efforts and will do anything necessary and possible to lend its influence to the Watch.
For the past several years, our Council has met with the lower Northside Watch in an effort to spur increased attendance at Watch meetings. If this initiative is a benefit to the Watch, it should be continued. However, our Council needs to do a better job coordinating with Watch representatives prior to meetings.
9th Street has become a North-South throughway that unfortunately bisects an existing neighborhood. Children must cross that street each day to attend school at Longfellow and Whittier Elementary Schools. Pedestrian residents cross it each day to do their daily grocery shopping.
It is a priority for Neighborhood Council 7 that traffic on 9th Street be better controlled and slowed down. In the past few years, we have initiated conversations on this issue that have resulted in the pedestrian median at 4th Avenue North and the turning lane at 6th Avenue South. We continue to supports any efforts to control traffic on 9th Street.
Traffic around the school zones at Whittier and Longfellow Elementary Schools remains a significant concern for Neighborhood Council 7. We believe that the recent enactment of Senator Tropila’s SB 88 by the Governor and Montana Legislature give the City of Great Falls additional resources to control traffic around these schools.
The School Zone at Whittier Elementary should be extended for a full city block around the school. We understand and applaud that this extension will mean that 9th Street between 3rd and 4th Avenues North will be part of a school zone.
We are also very concerned that uncontrolled traffic around the Longfellow School Zone may have contributed to the injury of a 5 year old Longfellow student as he was walking home from school (11/17/2009). We can and must do better to ensure the safety of our students.
We call upon the Great Falls Police Department to permanently increase their patrols and traffic enforcement efforts around Whittier and Longfellow Elementary Schools, especially around the times that school starts and ends for the day.
We are astounded that anyone thinks it reasonable for a 30 mph speedway to be located alongside the playgrounds of Gibson Park. Neighborhood Council 7 is committed to cutting through any necessary layers of bureaucracy to see this speed limit reduced.
We also suggest that most pedestrians and cyclists entering the park do so at the park entrance at 4th Avenue North. It is worth noting that 4th Avenue North is a recognized bicycle route, which connects to the River’s Edge Trail through the Gibson Park entrance. The crosswalk on Park Drive should be moved to this location with whatever traffic controls are necessary to ensure the safety of pedestrian and bicycle traffic.
Gibson Park Lighting
We are very excited that the Great Falls City Commission has voted to fund the initiative to light Gibson Park through a CTEP grant. As one of our premier initiatives over the last several years, we will continue to be part of the process to ensure that Gibson Park is lit and becomes a safer and more attractive resource for the City’s residents.
Parks and Recreation
The status of the walking/jogging path around Gibson Park is abysmal. This path presently constitutes a tripping hazard that is dangerous to users and leaves the City open to lawsuits. The Path should be re-accomplished in such a way to minimize future disruptions from growing roots. City needs to maintain its resources. We understand that the City is applying for a grant for funds to repair the path. Neighborhood Council 7 stands ready to support this effort in any way necessary. At a minimum, we are very willing to write letters of support and to solicit letters of support from our neighbors.
Park and Ponder Restaurant
We believe that it is a significant detriment to the City that the City’s rental restaurant in Gibson Park has been empty for over a year. We believe that the City should redouble its efforts and actively try to find anew tenant. The City should write a clear and comprehensive lease with this new Tenant to ensure that the obligations of both parties to the agreement are clearly delineated.
It is our perception that this system has significant problems. The water that pools behind the bandshell each June almost becomes an additional City pool. In addition, it is our perception that much of the grass in the park become dry and dead by mid-August each year. The City needs to maintain its resources and fix these problems.
Neighborhood Council 7 is thrilled to see such extensive use of all the City’s aquatic resources by residents throughout town. We support swimming as a lifelong activity that improves health. We believe that daily lap swimming periods should be set aside at all city pools.
The current Maroney Natatorium is now over forty years old. Many parts of the Natatorium’s physical plant are in poor condition due to age and deferred maintenance. The pool’s boiler is in poor condition and needs to be replaced, the decking is cracking and the bathroom plumbing can best be described as quirky.
The City needs to maintain its resources. In addition, creative ideas must be considered to maintain indoor swimming resource for residents while minimizing expenses. One option that deserves further study could be to eventually abandon/demolish the existing Natatorium and enclose the Mitchell Pool. The decking and boiler in the Mitchell Pool have been replaced in the last two years. We believe that implementation of this idea could reduce overall assets and expenses while leaving year-round swimming resources at almost the same level. While we do not yet endorse such an idea, we believe it is deserving of additional study.
Annual Maintenance Closure
For many years, it has been the City’s practice to close the Natatorium each December for maintenance. We submit that this closure; which annually falls during the School’s Winter Break; leaves lower-income City residents with virtually no recreation options at a time when they would be very welcome.
We submit that it would be a far better use of the City’s resources to annually close the Natatorium for repairs in July or August, when the outdoor neighborhood pools are available.
MItchell Pool status as Neighborhood Pool
The Mitchell Pool is a neighborhood pool. The children of the lower North and South side have historically used this neighborhood pool. The City’s decision to place the Flow Ride attraction next to the Mitchell Pool shouldn’t penalize lower-income residents from using this resource. Pricing decisions for the Mitchell should reflect this consideration. However, there is no reason that the Mitchell’s pricing should be required to be identical to the other neighborhood pools.
Electric City Water Park Pricing and Policies
The Electric City Water Park is an incredible city resource. We believe that this facility is generally well run, enjoyed by our residents and has become a a draw for badly needed tourist dollars.
However, we believe that this facility can be enhanced by some policy and pricing changes. In particular, we are very interested in the success that the City of Missoula is seeing with policies for their new outdoor water park. We believe that Great Falls should follow Missoula’s example here and enact several of those policies. These include:
One all-inclusive entrance fee for all attractions
The current wristband system for the three attractions at the Park creates a policing nightmare for Park staff that just fosters resentment on the part of users. This system should be abandoned in favor of one all-inclusive price for access to the entire facility. Missoula charges residents a $5 fee for one time access. This fee, which is higher than the current base fee for Mitchell Pool, is reasonable and the incorporation of such a rate structure may increase both use by residents and total revenue received.
Sale of season passes
Many residents, especially children, use the water park almost daily. The city should sell season passes for these residents. We understand that the City has had a negative experience with season passes at its golf courses. However, as use of a swimming pool does not depend on a pre-determined tee times, we suggest that any comparison between golf and swimming here is sophistry.
Resident v. non-resident pricing
The citizens of Great Falls paid for our facilities. There is no reason for the City to extend its subsidy for its aquatic resources to our tourists. The city should follow the example of municipal water parks throughout the United States, including the City of Missoula, and have resident pricing at subsidy and non-resident pricing at a reasonable, higher level.
Reform of concession stand to include healthier food and more options
Obesity is becoming a nationwide scourge. Childhood diabetes is becoming less of a tragedy than it is an expectation. At our water park, we do not allow outside food and only sell greasy, fat-laden and sweet concessions. As long as we do not allow outside food in the concession stand, a wide variety of menu options should be explored. As an idea, it may be valuable to discuss the water park concession menu with the nutritionist at the Great Falls School District.
Marketing of Park to local hotel guests
We believe that we are missing out on potential municipal revenue by inadequate marketing of the Great Falls Water Park to hotel guests. The City of Great Falls could try to maximize water park revenue by allowing local hotels to sell water park passes and/or include them in a guest’s hotel bill.
Use of Free Internet Marketing Tools
Our Electric City Water Park is a great draw for tourism and tourist dollars. We believe that the City could increase revenue at the Park by creating free Facebook Pages and marketing the park through regular Twitter posts.
Neighborhood Council 7 is thrilled with the success of the new Dog Park, and will do anything it can to support the efforts of animal lovers throughout Great Falls to continue to make the Dog Park a great place for our canine companions.
Support for Overall Economic Development Efforts
Many of the challenges facing the residents of the Lower North and South sides can be traced to insufficient employment opportunities. We support the efforts of the Great Falls Development Authority and other agencies to bring additional primary sector employment to our area and our City. We stand ready to support these efforts in any way required or necessary.
We can not revitalize the retail sector of our downtown as long as the general public believes that it is inconvenient to shop on Central Avenue. We should remove all possible obstacles from those that may wish to spend their retail dollars downtown.
We believe that our downtown parking meters keep retail dollars away from downtown shops. We believe that these fees should be reduced or eliminated. In order to keep downtown employees from using shopper’s parking places, the fines for leaving a vehicle in place for several hours should be substantially increased.
Overnight Train Noise
Over the past several months, we have received increasing numbers of complaints about the train whistles blaring through town in the middle of the night. Safety on the tracks is and should remain our primary concern.
However, we are encouraged that other Montana cities, Billings in particular, has managed to maintain public safety and still turn their downtown into a “no-whistle” zone for train traffic. Neighborhood Council 7 is committed to beginning the process to see if changes can be made to our crossings and other areas so that a similar designation can be made here in Great Falls. These changes may include the erection of a fence along the train tracks next to Gibson Park. This may become an area where our council will have to work on fundraising.
As discussed above, we believe that part of the funding shortfall for the Police Department can be traced to the ongoing expenses and efforts that the department must make to run the City’s animal control efforts. We believe that this experiment has gone on long enough, and that the City should immediately issue a RFP for operation of animal control and award a contract to the best value offeror in order to divest the Police Department of this responsibility.
Whittier Staff Parking
Whittier Elementary has a staffing that fluctuates between 35 and 50 employees, depending on the time of day. It has only been able to secure 15 parking places for staff. Several of these spaces are located across a dark alley at the Heisey Memorial. We thank the Montana Diocese for making those spots available.
The staff at Whittier are predominantly young women, many of whom are justifiably concerned about walking through downtown alleys in the dark. We think that the City should make parking spaces at the Great Falls Recreation Center available to the Great Falls School District for the use of Whittier staff. We believe that GFPS should pay a reasonable fee to the city for the dedicated use of those spaces during school hours.
City Ordinance Enforcement Policies
We suggest that we have a fundamental problem in Great Falls with how we go about enforcing ordinances. Virtually all ordinance enforcement in Great Falls is complaint-driven.
The problem with this is that the City does not currently have the resources to enforce an ordinance without first receiving a complaint. This leads the situation where the exact same activity will either result in an ordinance violation letter or not, depending on whether a neighbor decides to complain about the activity. This effectively becomes selective enforcement and is unfair.
We should not have ordinances that are not universally enforced. We suggest that the City needs to reform its ordinance enactment and enforcement process to ensure that all of our residents are subject to the same rules.
In addition, some very valuable ordinances (such as snow removal) have effectively been repealed without a vote of the commission as a result an executive decisions not to enforce them. City staff should not have the option of enforcing some ordinances and ignoring others.