Tester talks infrastructure with city leaders

by Bozeman Daily Chronicle, Lewis Kendall

At the end of a week that began with the rollout of President Donald Trump’s plan to tackle the nation’s crumbling and out-of-date infrastructure systems, U.S. Sen. Jon Tester was in Bozeman to hear local leaders’ concerns about roads, pipes and treatment plants.

The senator’s visit was part of a series of trips across the state “to get a priority list” of Montana communities’ infrastructure needs. Many of these needs were echoed across the board, Tester said, including upgrading sewer and water systems, as well as expanding law enforcement and emergency personnel services.

“There’s a real pattern here. Everywhere we’ve went so far, we’ve heard the same thing,” Tester said. “It’ll help as we design the (infrastructure) bill.”

The Bozeman roundtable, held at the Gallatin Labor Temple, included Mayor Cyndy Andrus, Belgrade Mayor Russ Nelson, Prospera Business Network Executive Director Paul Reichert, Belgrade City Council member Kristine Menicucci , Bozeman Assistant City Manager Anna Rosenberry and Bozeman Public Works Director Craig Woolard.

Andrus started off the conversation, listing funding for broadband internet as one of Bozeman’s top priorities.

“The bigger conversation for me is to think of broadband as part of this infrastructure conversation,” Andrus said. “That would be really helpful for us.”

Nelson and Menicucci contrasted Belgrade’s growth with the strain the city has placed on its tax base to front the funding for projects such as a $25 million high school expansion and the hiring of new police officers.

As proposed, Trump’s infrastructure plan would require local municipalities come up with as much as 80 percent of the funding for infrastructure projects, a split that Menicucci called “a pipe dream.”

“We don’t have the tax base to do things other communities can,” the council member said. “(Residents) are going to run out of money.”

Montana cities and towns are set to receive the first allocation of funding from the state’s increased gas tax passed in the 2017 legislative session, which is expected to raise nearly $30 million in 2018. Bozeman’s first allocation is $263,000 for road and bridge projects. Belgrade was allocated nearly $50,000, while Livingston will receive $55,000.

The Montana legislature failed to pass an infrastructure bill in the last two legislative sessions. The state’s infrastructure is approaching a “critical state of disrepair,” according to the American Society of Civil Engineers.