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Hamilton city bond election ballots in mail

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HAMILTON, Mont. - The ballots for a city bond election in Hamilton are in the mail.

Voters will decide whether to approve the sale of Claudia Driscoll Park and the now empty National Guard Armory in downtown Hamilton.

If approved the next step could be to convert the armory into a justice center. The park would remain as a recreation area for the public.

The Department of Military Affairs owns the property and gave the city first option to buy. That cost is a non-negotiable $1.2 million.

The bonds are for $1.35 million and would include purchase of the property, park improvements and the costs of issuing the bonds

On Thursday city officials held an informational session to answer questions from the public. About a dozen people came to City Hall to hear more about the bond voters are being asked to approve.

Claudia Driscoll Park is a popular spot that hosts many community events. The playground is a destination spot for children from all over the valley.

Ellen Holleman was at the informational session. She is a member of the Bitterroot Community Band.

"I think it's a fabulous idea," she said, "because that park is used to so many people in so many different ways."

Supporters of the bond say city ownership would insure Claudia Driscoll would remain a public green space.

Barbara Brown loves the park. But she is also on a fixed income.

It's a tight budget, she said, "and it's just really hard to absorb all of this for me on a monthly basis."

Property taxes on a $200,000 house would be $35.78 a year for the next 15 years.

If the sale is approved the city would likely move forward on converting the armory into a justice center.

Police would move from City Hall in the Bedford Building. Seventeen people work in the police department there.

Many say conditions are cramped, with an interview room that's too small and records and evidence rooms that are over-stuffed.

A new justice center could eventually house the city attorney and court.

Maire Estar thinks the armory is a good spot to relocate those departments.

"It's an open shell, which would be easy to remodel," she said.

Estair also likes the idea of a justice center having a central location on Main Street. She thinks it would be good for Hamilton's downtown economy.

But Bob Bedey has mixed feelings.

The Hamilton school district is now reviewing options to offset a $700,000 shortfall in funding, and has held its own town hall meetings asking voters what they think of a possible levy and bond.

Bedey said Hamilton could have a lot on its plate.

"Because of what we have going with the school," he said, "I don't think people can afford all of it. They're going to have to pick and choose."

Hamilton voters have until March 21 to decide whether to approve the armory and park sale.

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