Citing insurance concerns, city council tables tennis court agreement

by DERRICK PERKINS
Editor | January 12, 2021 7:00 AM

Libby City Council held off on adding its signature to joint agreement for the upkeep of local playing courts Jan. 4, with members citing insurance questions, among other concerns.

The agreement, which includes the county, park district board, school district and the city, addresses the upkeep and improvement of Libby’s public tennis and pickleball courts. The contract also stipulates how and when the courts are used.

Under the terms, school district officials are responsible for snow removal and spring cleaning as well as cleaning up after school events. The city remains responsible for repair work, to include the walkways and parking lots. U Serve, a nonprofit dedicated to promoting tennis locally, remains in charge of cleaning the courts during the summer and fall — after the school tennis season ends.

The nonprofit also is responsible for lowering the nets and locking the gates as well as promoting any tennis and pickleball activities, to include lessons or tournaments.

But two questions have left city councilors wary: U Serve is not a signatory to the agreement and the organization is not required to provide insurance under the terms of the document.

“When we have an outside entity that is running the show for us … we typically require insurance,” City Attorney Dean Chisholm told city councilors in response to questions about the omission of an insurance requirement.

Chisholm said he did not know why U Serve was absolved from having insurance in the past. He told the city council that he suspected it was because the schools, county and city had a role in running the courts.

“It’s not unusual in a contract like this among multiple parties where we have some big hitters — the city, the schools and the county — with big pockets that already have liability carriers and can add this as an additional function or coverage,” he said.

That then frees smaller groups with smaller budgets from insurance costs, Chisholm said.

City Councilor Hugh Taylor expressed concern about a lack of consistency. The cross-country ski club takes out insurance to run events on city-owned land, he said.

That led his colleague, Gary Beach, to question whether the insurance requirement was leveled evenly across the city.

“The [American] Legion baseball field is administered by a private group on city property, do we require them to have insurance?” he asked. “If we’re looking at this with all the different activities then we have to look at that as well.”

City Councilor Kristin Smith agreed that consistency was important. But what if U Serve could not afford the cost?

“The other issue is: If they cannot obtain insurance satisfactory to us, do we not let them use the courts?” she asked.

Chisholm recommended city officials check with U Serve first. They may lack the funds to pay for it, he said. He also endorsed a suggestion to run the question by the Montana Municipal Interlocal Authority (MMIA).

Chisholm noted that though U Serve does not provide insurance, it does offer other services to the city on that property.

“The critical question is whether or not U Serve is going to have to walk away from this if we have to require them to have insurance,” he said. “If that’s the case, what’s the cost to us to clean and perform maintenance and all that stuff? Perhaps someone can contact U Serve — that might dictate our response.”

Mayor Brent Teske offered to sound out the organization and contact the MMIA.

City Councilor Rob Dufficy made the motion to table the contract to allow for further study. City Councilor Peggy Williams offered a second. The vote was unanimous.