County considering $3.52 million public safety levy

County Commissioners are considering sending a $3.52 million public safety levy to the November ballot.

They’ve scheduled a special meeting for July 29 to consider a resolution of intent to levy those mills and to send the question to the voters this falls.

Currently, the county doesn’t have enough money to “maintain the necessary services of the sheriff’s office and the county attorney’s office. As Cascade County continues to grow in population, so do the demands of the sheriff and county attorney services,” according to the county staff report.

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Deputies presented to the county compensation board in June asking them to raise the sheriff’s salary by 31.5 percent to make it more commensurate with other county department heads and other law enforcement agencies. Deputy salaries are tied to the sheriff’s salary.

The compensation board did not address salaries for the sheriff or deputies during their June meeting.

The county staff report says that the starting salary for a deputy in the county is about 26 percent less than the starting salary at the Great Falls Police department and other competing law enforcement agencies.

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The starting salary for deputy county attorneys is about 18 percent less than those starting in the Office of the Public Defender and are 17 percent below the market compensation rate for new prosecuting attorneys in the state, according to the staff report.

“Accordingly, both the Cascade County Sheriffs Office and the Cascade County Attorney’s Office are currently having difficulty hiring and maintaining qualified and skilled deputy sheriffs and deputy attorneys to the extent that both offices are currently understaffed by approximately 20 percent in sworn personnel. Limited resources and personnel also limit the sheriff’s office ability to devote resources and personnel for additional school safety initiatives needed to protect county schools,” according to the staff report.

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“Further, Cascade County does not currently have a pretrial services/supervision program. Pretrial services and supervision programs provide a beneficial increase to public safety and provide rehabilitation services to pretrial offenders and have been shown to increase public safety,” according to the staff report.

County Attorney Josh Racki and other county officials discussed the development of a pretrial program in 2018, but little came of those proposals and it wasn’t included in county budgets.

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The county did begin using a pre-trial assessment tool through the Montana Supreme Court in 2020.

Racki told The Electric on July 27 that the county had to stop using the tool due to lack of staffing.

If approved, the county’s public safety levy would exist in perpetuity, according to the staff report, and the estimated impact to a property owners would be:

  • an additional $27 per year on a home with a market value of $100,000
  • an additional $54 annually on a home with a market value of $200,000