County leaders prepare to formally seek out companies to take over management at MetraPark in Billings Local News

The debate about whether to privatize management at MetraPark is no longer a hypothetical.

County leaders are seeking formal bids from companies interested in taking over management at MetraPark and will start next week drafting the documents that will become their official request.

In short, the county’s request for proposals will require companies to demonstrate their experience in managing other similar facilities, their plan for running MetraPark and what they propose their compensation to be.

“If it doesn’t make sense we’re not gonna do it,” said Commissioner Don Jones.

Jones has been a proponent of exploring the privatization option since the debate over MetraPark management became public last November. He stated that the county was on dual paths exploring privatization of management on one hand and seeing how that would stack up to the facility’s past public management with the possibility of keeping it in place.

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Commissioner John Ostlund, who has argued for an in-depth, third-party investigation of both the public and private options, asked Jones at the commissioner’s Thursday discussion if the dual paths was still the direction the county was headed.

Jones explained that at this point it makes more sense simply to move towards privatization.

“This is the better way to go if we can get the right agreement,” Jones said. “If we can’t then it’s not the best way to go.”

If the county can’t get the right agreement in place then it’ll be best for Metra to continue under public management, he said.

Ostlund pointed out that the commissioners’ months-long debate of the management question has been at times disparaging of operations at MetraPark.

“It functions pretty darn well,” he said.

Commissioners will spend time on Monday and possibly again on Thursday hammering out the details of their request for proposals. Much of it will center on pricing models, the revenue arrangement between the company looking to assume management and the county, and financial incentives guaranteed to the managing company.

But other elements will be just as important, said Kevan Bryan, the county’s finance director. Bryan and his staff will be the group creating the final RFP with the commissioners’ notes.

The two sides will need to agree on everything from what ticketing services will be used to how accountability would work should the company not perform as required by the contract.

That includes figuring out which state will have jurisdiction as those disagreements come up. The companies that have expressed interest in taking on management — OVG and ASM Global — are both based in LA

“I don’t know how that gets worded but I’d want to make sure that it gets addressed,” Bryan said. “If there’s an issue that happens in Yellowstone County, I want to talk about it in Yellowstone County.”

Finally, commissioners wanted to make sure the county could get out of a contract should the company handling the management not perform to the commissioners’ standards.

“We need a fairly strong exit strategy,” Ostlund said. “I don’t want to be tied to a contract with this or anything else if it doesn’t work out.”

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