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Phone survey may lead to money for fairgrounds


Residents of Hill County are being asked to participate in a phone survey that could lead to federal money to help replace the bleachers at the county fairgrounds.

The grandstand and part of the bleachers were torn down earlier this year after an engineer found them to be unsafe.

The survey is part of an application for a federal grant that county leaders are targeting to help offset the costs of replacing the bleachers, which will cost at least $200,000.

The survey is aimed at identifying what outdoor recreational activities respondents participate in, and which they would like to see the county pursue, said Annmarie Robinson, deputy director of the Bear Paw Development Corp.

A group of eight to 10 volunteers will begin the survey later this week, she said. Up to 200 individual surveys will be conducted. They are expected to take about 10 minutes to complete.

The Great Northern Fair Board is asking Hill County residents to support the survey.

"Many people are reluctant to participate in phone surveys" the board said in a press release, but "the fair board is hopeful that the residents of Hill County will feel that improving the fairgrounds is an important recreational activity." The survey results will be included in a grant application that seeks $50,000 from the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

The fund is administered by the National Park Service. The application will be sent to the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks for preliminary approval. If the application is approved at the state level, it will be sent to the National Park Service for final consideration.

The application is due June 1, Robinson said.

According to the Park Service Web page, the program is available to state and local governments and is "intended to create and maintain a nationwide legacy of high quality recreation areas and facilities." Last year the fund awarded $94 million nationally, with Montana receiving $857,000.

Robinson said the Land and Water Conservation Fund is the only program Bear Paw Development has identified as a potential source of grant money for replacement bleachers.

Last year communities across Montana sought funding for 18 projects through the program, with a total of 12 being approved, Robinson said.

Bear Paw Development, a not-for-profit economic development firm, has written applications for the program for other projects, she added. Among the projects approved for possible grant assistance last year was Havre's proposed skateboard park.

That application, which seeks $24,000, was approved by the state and is being considered at the national level, she said.

The maximum amount available through the grant is $50,000. Based on the cost of replacing the bleachers, the county plans to ask for the maximum amount, she added.

The grant requires a dollar-for-dollar match from the county, a provision that will force the fair board to seek community approval for additional funding. Voters may see a funding measure on the November ballot, Robinson said.

The county and the fair board are considering two main options to raise the money: establishing a mill levy or seeking public approval to take out a loan.

Officials originally estimated the cost of new bleachers to be about $500,000, but Robinson said on Monday that the figure is probably closer to $200,000.


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