By Michael Howell
The City of Hamilton is looking to purchase some property at the corner of Foxfield and Skeels as the future site of a planned Justice Center that would house the Police Department, the City Court and the City Attorney’s office. The Council was split over the issue and Mayor Jerry Steele broke the tie in favor of making an offer to purchase for $215,000. The property has been appraised at a value of $235,000.
Special Projects Director Dennis Stranger reviewed the process by which the property was selected for consideration. It involved criteria that included easy public access, adequate parking, and enough space to accommodate a building that would include the necessary storage space required for files and evidence storage. Stranger said that a number of potential sites were examined and dismissed for one reason or another. He went briefly over a list of about a dozen sites that were considered and the reasons they were found to be inadequate.
“If there’s a better site, we haven’t found it yet,” said Stranger.
A local real estate broker, Travis Martinez, suggested that the City consider leasing the site rather than purchasing it.
Councilor Joe Petrusaitis was critical of the proposal. He noted that the land is not for sale. He also questioned the need for a Justice Center when the Police Department was recently remodeled. He said the Council usually looks at three or four options when they are considering a property purchase. He said in this case it looks like the Council has already painted itself into a corner with only one choice. Petrusaitis suggested that the Council should ask the owners if they are willing to sell and if they are, ask them for a price.
“If they don’t want to sell it, I guess we are just out of luck,” he said.
Councilor Jenny West said that she was concerned about moving so much of the City’s operations out of the downtown.
Councilor Al Mitchell said, “I think we’ve done our due diligence in the property search.” He said he was not sure that leasing was really a better option. He noted that the remodel of the Police Department did cost several thousand dollars.
“But those improvements would still be available for use by other departments and offices,” said Mitchell. He said the house currently housing the City Attorney’s office could be sold. Mitchell said he had some concerns about moving out of the downtown but that the new Justice Center was really needed and he thinks the proposed property fits the requirements.
Petrusaitis was insistent in his objections. “I can’t believe that this is the only property in town worth considering,” he said.
The motion to make an offer to purchase the property was amended to add a price of $215,000. A vote on the amendment split 3 to 3 with Petrusaitis, Monson and West voting against it. Mayor Steele broke the tie in favor of the amendment. A vote on the amended motion came down the same way in a 3 to 3 tie with the Mayor voting for approval.
The Council also approved a change order with Mr. Asphalt in the amount of $1,025.11 for a little additional work at the intersection of Bedford and 2nd Street. It involved the placement of additional sidewalk, curbs and gutters.
The Council awarded the Fairgrounds Road mill and overlay project to LS Jenson Construction out of Missoula for $139,885. The Mayor was also authorized to sign a construction agreement with MDT to update the signing and pavement markings on Fairgrounds Road.
The Council also approved an Encroachment Permit to close an alley adjacent to 7th Street.
The Council also heard a complaint about Special Project Director Dennis Stranger’s behavior at the American Legion Park. A citizen stated that Stranger’s behavior and language were rude and disrespectful. He hoped the council would address the issue.