City Commission scheduled to vote on sending public safety levy to November ballot

City Commissioners will consider sending the proposed public safety levy to the ballot during their March 7 meeting.

They’ll be asked to adopt a resolution that calls for the election and approves ballot language.

The language, as proposed reads:

“Shall the City Commission of the City of Great Falls, Montana be authorized to levy mills for the purpose of paying costs of public safety services, including operations, maintenance and certain capital costs of the police department, fire department, city attorney and municipal court services and related public safety expenses? If this mill levy proposition is passed, the City will be authorized to levy permanently up to 103.75 mills per year, to raise approximately $10,717,305. Based on the current taxable value of the City, the property taxes on a home with an assessed market value for tax purposes of $100,000 would increase by $140.06 per year and property taxes on a home with an assessed market value for tax purposes of $200,000 would increase by $280.11 per year.”

City considering PR firm contract to educate public on safety levy

Levying a number of mills versus a set dollar amount gives the city more flexibility in the event that property values and the city’s tax base increase.

Based on the current proposed ballot language, the city can mill up to the max amount, but does not have to seek the full amount. The number of mills the city chooses to levy, up to the max, would be determined during the annual budget process.

The resolution does not include sending another estimated $12 million facility bond to the ballot.

The resolution calls for a mail ballot election.

Commissioners will take public comment on the proposal during the meeting.

City considering adding SROs to public safety levy

In February, City Manager Greg Doyon said he was trying to get commissioners to nail down their ask for the operational levy before considering the facility bond.

Commissioners and city staff have discussed public safety needs for years and every year during the budget process, fire, police, legal and the municipal court have presented their needs. Some of those have been funded over the years, but not typically to the level the departments requested.

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Over the years, commissioners have also floated the idea of a public safety levy but didn’t pursue it until the last year after the city’s crime task force recommended in late 2021 a levy to fund more of the operational needs presented by staff.

The city attempted a public safety levy in 2009 that did not pass.

City finalizing plans for public safety levy

The last voter approved safety levy was in the late 1960s when voters approved a bond for the construction of the four current stations and a fire training center.

The current proposal includes funding for two additional school resources officer positions, adding another $230,000 to the total levy proposal.

public safety levy police fire March 2023

public safety levy court legal March 2023

Melissa Kinzler, city finance director, reminded commissioners during a February meeting that the Legislature is in session so that could change rules regarding taxation, but that mills are based on taxable valuation, numbers the city doesn’t receive from the Montana Department of Revenue until August.

The ballot language, which is regulated by state law, will include estimated tax impacts but those will be based on the 2021 valuations, which the state updates every two years, Kinzler said, since the ballot language has to be finalized before the city gets the new valuations.

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Kinzler also reminded commissioners that if voters approve the levy on the November ballot, the city won’t levy those mills until the next budget year, which will begin July 1, 2024.

Commissioners have spent the last year discussing the possibility of a public safety levy, after about a year of crime task force meetings.

Here’s more background on the city’s discussions on a public safety levy and crime task force:

City adjusting plans for proposed public safety levy

City legal, fire discuss options for public safety levy

City considering $35 million public safety levy

City officials continue discussion of potential public safety levy

City discusses potential public safety levy; crime study

City finalizing plans for use of ARPA funds; beginning discussion of public safety levy

City Commission has yet to prioritize crime task force recommendations, continues discussion

City continues review of crime task force recommendations

City Commission discusses crime task force recommendations; has not yet set priorities

City Commission begins review of crime task force recommendations

City Commission to take first look at crime task force recommendations during Nov. 2 meeting

City’s crime task force releases their recommendations, seeking public comment

City crime task force developing ideas for crime reduction recommendations

Crime task force continues learning about resources, challenges in city

State, federal and local prosecutors discuss trends, resources with city crime task force

New crime task force begins meeting

Crime task force meets for first time June 7

City officials discuss crime, drugs

Crime task force members scheduled for appointment at May 18 commission meeting

City still working on membership for new crime task force

City discusses creation of crime task force

City takes first look at proposed budget, mayor floats idea of public safety levy

City looking at options for using marijuana tax revenue