County lowers public safety levy for deputy, attorney pay; pre-trial, school safety programs

Cascade County Commissioners are holding a public hearing Aug. 19 at 9:30 a.m. on whether to send a public safety levy to the ballot.

Initially, the sheriff and county attorney offices had proposed a $3.52 million levy but have since revised the proposal and reduced it to $2.46 million annually.

That equates to about $18.90 for a house with a $100,000 taxable value and $37.80 on a house with a $200,000 taxable value, according to the county.

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Sheriff Jesse Slaughter said the levy will fund pay increases for deputies and deputy county attorneys. It will also fund a pre-trial program and a school safety program.

They’re proposing to increase salaries by 35 percent to bring them more in range with the Great Falls Police Department and other agencies.

deputy pay chart 2022

Deputy pay comparison, provided by the Cascade County Deputy Sheriff Association.

That also increases the sheriff’s salary to $92,500 since state law sets deputy salaries on a percentage basis of the sheriff’s salary.

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Slaughter said that deputies make about $20,000 less than GFPD officers.

“You see that and think why would I stay at the sheriff’s office, there’s no point,” Slaughter said.

He said five deputies have left the Cascade County Sheriff’s Office for the GFPD while he’s been sheriff and they’re currently down eight deputies.

Currently, the starting salary for a deputy at CCSO is $45,134, he said.

If approved, the levy will also fund a $20,000 increase for all deputy county attorneys.

Slaughter said the county attorney’s office is down three attorneys and they have the highest criminal trial rate in the state, meaning a heavy case load even when they’re fully staffed.

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He said that Madison County, with a population of about 8,600, pays deputy county attorneys $21,000 more than Cascade County.

The job posting for a deputy county attorney in the criminal division lists the salary range as $64,940.92 to $80,440.92 depending on experience.

The strain on the county attorney’s office can also impact the jail, Slaughter said.

On Aug. 17, there were 205 pre-trial holds in the jail with a total of 394 people incarcerated. The county also contracts with the U.S. Marshal Service for 100 jail beds.

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Before COVID, Slaughter said a high pre-trial hold population was 170.

Earlier this month, it was up to 217, he said.

The levy would also fund a pre-trial program, including full-time staff.

Slaughter said that if the levy passes, they’ll issue a request for proposals for management of the program and he estimates spending $250,000 to $400,000 on pre-trial.

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His broad concept for the program includes an ability to purchase and use alcohol monitoring and GPS tracking devices and have staff to monitor for compliance.

That could help keep people out of the jail while awaiting court dates, Slaughter said, depending on their offense and whether the judge determines if the offender can be released and what their conditions are.

It would be similar to the monitoring programs used in the treatment courts, Slaughter said.

The levy would also fund an additional school resource officer and Slaughter is planning to roll out a school safety program that includes training and arming civilians who would be in the schools.

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State law provides for the creation of special services officers, who are subordinate to full-time law enforcement officers and must complete specialized training and have certain qualifications as determined by the sheriff.

Slaughter said he wants to create paid positions under the levy.

The special service officers would be trained and equipped through the sheriff’s office and would assigned to schools based on threat assessments. They’d be in plain clothes and the idea is that people don’t know that they’re the armed official assigned to a school. They won’t respond school to school, he said.

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Slaughter said he intends to roll the program out regardless of the levy passage.

He’s presenting the program proposal to the rural schools next week and meeting with Great Falls Public Schools officials this week.

There are seven rural schools and Slaughter said they’d support private schools too.

Implementing the program in schools will require approval by their school boards.