‘On the same page’

Areas for improvement tallied in Hardin Community Needs Assessment
Thursday, October 4, 2018

Graph courtesy of City of Hardin

One hundred eighty people responded this year to the Hardin Community Needs Assessment. Those who responded were asked to rate which public facility and service was in need of improvement (results shown above), what would make living in Hardin better for them, and more.

Photo by Andrew Turck

Hardin city worker Nathan Enick Jr. smooths out the road late Tuesday morning for construction along North Choteau Avenue between 4th and 5th Street West. Improvement of road and street maintenance was marked “Very Important” by more than half of the respondents for this year’s Hardin Community Needs Assessment.

“Hardin is the best Lil Town to live in and we want to keep it that way.”

“The town is in transition…we are too old to do the work, and the younger generation is moving away to better jobs and more opportunities.”

“There [are] plenty of jobs. Plenty of affordable homes and excellent childcare options.”

“Look at the store fronts. Half or more are EMPTY! That is NOT economic development. That is a disgrace to this town. Even the Little Big Horn Days events have been moved out of Hardin. What do tourists have to visit HERE?”

One hundred eighty people responded this year to the City of Hardin’s Community Needs Assessment, the first compiled since 2008. Mayor Joe Purcell, who said in February he intends for local government to meet “the needs of and [listen] to the people,” was happy with the turnout.

Rating the City of Hardin, about 10 percent of respondents stated it was “Above Average,” 34 percent “Good,” 44 percent “Average,” 10 percent “Poor” and three percent gave no response. Four responses – about two percent – “indicated below average.”

For the Hardin City Council, about 10 percent rated them as “Very Good,” 47 percent as “Good,” 28 percent as “Needs Improvement” and 15 percent didn’t respond. As for Purcell, about 21 percent rated him “Very Good,” 48 percent as “Good,” 14 percent as “Needs Improvement” and 17 percent didn’t respond. Some of those who didn’t respond on Purcell’s rating stated the mayor – who began his term Jan. 1 – hadn’t been in office long enough to properly gauge.

Of those who responded, about 172 owned their residence, five rented, one person stated “Business only” and two did not respond. Areas cited for improvement, Purcell said, were about as expected.

“What came out high was law enforcement, streets and road maintenance, and then our water and sewer, which were all areas that we a city also had identified,” he said. “That was nice to see everyone was on the same page.”

The project or program that, on average, took top priority for residents was the need to improve the city sewer system – 41 people said it was the most important, compared to 21 people naming the second priority down the line: economic development. That stated, slightly more people placed economic development on their top five than sewer improvements.

Many people responding, Purcell believes, voted for sewer improvements because they remember June 1, 2015, when a storm dumped 2-4 inches of rain onto the city, flooding streets and sending water up through residents’ toilets.

“That’s still fresh in people’s minds and they don’t want that to happen again,” he said, adding that the current sewer system’s pipes were laid in the 1970s and are scheduled to be fixed. “We’re still meeting EPA standards in quality, but we need to be a little bit more proactive.”

Law enforcement was seen as the public facility or service most in need of improvement with 113 people stating this need was “Very Important.” Down the line, road and street maintenance received 98 votes in that category – followed by both the water system, and sewage collection and disposal with 76 votes each.

Though local law enforcement is operated through Big Horn County, making it “a tough issue,” Purcell said, the city will make sure “we have the proper resolutions and ordinances in place to give law enforcement…the window to ticket and fine, and go forward with their job.”

A significant amount of comments in the assessment stated law enforcement needed to remove “street people” from the area – who responders stated brought with them drugs and alcohol, and were a danger to children.

Purcell, who serves as director of nursing for longterm care at Heritage Acres Nursing Home, believes this problem is something to be fixed by the local community. Local facilities, he said, need look into more options for mental health care.

“[We need to address this] not as an alcoholic problem or a drug problem, it’s a mental health issue,” he said. “We need to go back to that base, and offer and provide services for people to get help and not just condemn them when they are in a situation where there’s no help available.”

On a day-to-day level, Purcell said, the city finished repairs on Terry Avenue, but in regards to more street work, “a lot of it comes down to dollars.” Currently, he said, the city is trying to put together “a better chip seal process” for routine maintenance to preserve roads are that still in good shape.

The city water system, he continued, is “up-to-date” with reserves built for repairs.

To gain more funding, he has “been trying to attend as many foundation and grant meetings as possible.” A meeting Purcell attended with the Montana Community Foundation, he believes, shows “a lot of promise.”

As for the “single most important thing” to improve living in Hardin, residents stated, shopping services topped the list with 56 votes, followed by more job opportunities with 49, industry at 48 and entertainment establishments at 23.

By cultivating economic development, Purcell believes, the city will have a greater opportunity to bring in all of these improvements. At present, he is reevaluating “where our city’s economic development plan is” because “technically, there’s nobody in that place.”

“We need to work together as a community, and help clean up our neighborhoods and set the example for everybody else,” he said. “If we do due diligence to take care of our own and then help our neighbors take care of theirs, we’ll get a domino effect and keep that positive going.”

Based on the comments, at least several residents were thinking on his wavelength.

“Thanks for sending this out and giving the community an opportunity to have their voices heard,” one commenter wrote. “Hope this leads to positive change [without] our taxes having to be raised!”

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