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Advocates for a multi-sports recreational complex said a portion of the funding anticipated to come from Lewis and Clark County for a feasibility study was withdrawn.

The group was notified a week or so ago of the county’s decision that subtracted $5,000 from the cost for the study, Peggy Stringer, a member of the Helena Regional Sports Association’s board, told the City-County Parks Board on Wednesday.

A scope of work for the feasibility study projected the cost at $53,000 plus possibly $5,000 to $10,000 more if an implementation strategy is developed.

She said she is hoping the group can get the funding reinstated and asked parks board members for their support.

County commission Chairman Mike Murray, who was not at the parks board meeting, said later that the county had $5,000 in its preliminary budget toward feasibility study but it failed to advance because of county’s other needs.

“We put it in the draft budget, took a look at it and it didn’t make the cut given the needs we have for the jail, the fairgrounds and transportation,” Murray said.

“Many other items didn’t make the cut either,” he added and said the county’s shared funding of a deputy prosecutor with the city of Helena wasn’t renewed by the county.

“So this program wasn’t singled out,” Murray said.

The city is fully funding the prosecutor position so the savings to the county is one-half of that person’s salary, said Nancy Everson, the county’s finance director.

County officials have been trying to map a strategy to reduce jail overcrowding after voters in November 2015 rejected funding a nearly $41 million construction bond as well as a permanent levy for the facility’s maintenance and operations as well as programs and services aimed at stemming the future increase in inmates.

Nearly all of those being held in the county’s detention center, county officials have said, are people awaiting trial or hearings because they allegedly violated the terms of their release.

Without a way to reduce overcrowding, a District Court could be asked to take control of the jail’s management because of inmate conditions.

The safety of detention facility staff is also a pressing concern, county officials have noted.

While the county grapples with detention center issues, it also recognizes needs at the fairgrounds. Voters in June 2014 rejected a permanent levy that would have funded an array of improvements there.

The owner of a home valued at $200,000 would have seen the property tax bill rise by about $18 annually had the levy won approval.

Another competing demand on county resources is funding for the city’s bus system that serves East Helena. Bus service is limited and doesn’t operate long enough on weekdays to meet commuter needs nor does it operate on weekends and holidays.

Advocates of a multi-sport recreational complex said the Helena Regional Sports Association formed in the wake of Carroll College’s decision to close its pool.

While the creation of a tournament quality pool complex was the catalyst for the group, its view broadened to envision what other recreational needs could be met.

Some 900 people participated in an online survey as part of the feasibility study that was recently completed but as yet not released, Stringer said.

Murray said he had no doubts that the feasibility study would confirm the project’s feasibility.

The sports association plans to begin narrowing the list of possible sites for a facility when it next meets, Stringer said.

After an in-depth analysis on the remaining three sites, the consultants will prepare an implementation strategy, according to a handout that described the work the consult would perform.

When Steve Ackerlund, a member of the sports association, met with the parks board in early March, he said the group was looking at a facility that would cost in the neighborhood of $50 million.

Having a sports complex, he said at that time, would be a bonus for the community and help make Helena more attractive to new businesses.

About 40 years ago, Memorial Park was built, Stringer told the parks board on Wednesday.

“Today, everyone is benefitting from that pool,” she added of the pool and water park located at the park. “And I can tell you it is packed.”

“It’s time again to invest in our community and make sure that we don’t let things slide away,” she said.

She praised the city for its $5,000 contribution toward the study and said she was “very, very disappointed” to see the county withdraw its support.

The sports association is a grassroots movement of people who want to see something happen, similar to that effort 40 years ago, she continued.

“We need to reinvest in our community, we need to make sure that we’re leaving a legacy for the future here.”

This effort to plan for an indoor sports facility comes on the heels of a similar planning effort that spanned some two years before being shelved in 2014.

The planning effort for a regional park, trails and recreation district included Helena, East Helena and Lewis and Clark as well as Jefferson counties.

The Lewis and Clark County commission and Helena’s city commission had concerns with asking voters for financial support when the county would be asking for a new detention center and the public school district would be placing a levy on the ballot. The school district $70 million levy failed to pass in June 2015.

The City-County Parks Board had been looking at the land within a 10-mile radius of Helena for the district it was considering asking voters to financially support.

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Al Knauber can be reached at al.knauber@helenair.com

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I am a staff writer at the Independent Record covering primarily city and county governments.

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