Upcoming Montana outing could cost City Hall taxpayers upward of $7,000 | ParkRecord.com

Upcoming Montana outing could cost City Hall taxpayers upward of $7,000

by Jay Hamburger OF THE RECORD STAFF

A group of City Hall officials will travel to Montana in September at the expense of Park City taxpayers, with a preliminary list of people that will be paid for out of the municipal coffers numbering upward of 10.

The itinerary of this year’s ‘City Tour’ includes stops in Bozeman, Livingston, Virginia City and the mountain resort of Big Sky. The City Tour is an annual City Hall-led outing to other communities in the West to give the Park City group a chance to learn how other places operate.

The group is scheduled to depart on Sept. 8 and return on Sept. 12. Approximately 50 people are listed as having signed up, with the group including the public officials as well as business leaders, not-for-profit executives and members of the Leadership Park City training program. The people not representing a government entity normally pay their own way or their own organizations fund their trips.

The trip is anticipated to cost between $650 and $700 per person, meaning that the City Tour could cost Park City taxpayers $7,000 or so dollars if 10 City Hall people — elected officials, members of boards and commissions and staffers — attend at taxpayer expense. The trips have been occurring annually in the summer or fall for years.

But this year’s edition is scheduled a few months after City Hall struggled to balance its budget amid falling municipal revenues. There were widespread budget cuts, and there was discussion early in the budget negotiations about increasing property taxes in Park City. The idea to increase the property taxes was scrapped, but concerns remain about the long-range financial situation at City Hall.

People who have been on City Tours argue that the outings are worthwhile expenses since they allow them to learn about the inner working of places that are seen as facing issues familiar to Parkites. Growth, resort-based economic issues, the environment and transit are common topics that are explored during discussions in the other communities.

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A roster of government leaders, businesspeople and activists typically address the Park City group. Numerous special-interest tours of the destinations are arranged. The people on the tour normally also sample the nightlife in the destinations as well.

"A big part of our budget is training. We’re treating this as a training and staff-development tool," said Park City Manager Tom Bakaly, who is scheduled to attend and has been on six or seven previous City Tours.

Bakaly said City Hall departments have cut their budgets for other travel and training.

Bakaly also said the people on the tour are able to talk to others who are from Park City who they might otherwise not spend time with.

The city manager points out that people on past tours returned to Park City with diverse ideas about publicly displayed art, skating rinks, skate parks and land conservation.

Park City Councilman Alex Butwinski, who is traveling with the group to Montana at taxpayer expense, is a veteran of two previous City Tours as a private citizen. He paid his own way on the two.

Butwinski recalled learning about publicly displayed art and revitalizing downtowns during a City Tour to Boise, Idaho, and delving into strained relations between government officials and a developer in Crested Butte, Colo.

"I paid my own way and I thought it was a worthwhile investment," he said.

The City Tour last visited Bozeman with a similar itinerary in 2002, in the months after the Winter Olympics. On that trip, speakers talked about the college-town atmosphere of Bozeman, home to Montana State University, and small-town living in Livingston. Some of the people that year made a side trip to Big Sky Resort.