City hosting public safety town hall June 14
The city is hosting a town hall meeting at 6 p.m. June 14 in the Mansfield Theater to discuss the public safety levy that will be on the November ballot.
The event will be the first of two and will include comments from the police and fire chiefs, city attorney and municipal judge on the state of public safety in Great Falls, as well as a question and answer period.
In 1969, voters approved a $1.96 bond to build the existing fire stations and training center.
A 2009 public safety levy failed.
Public safety agencies in Great Falls are primarily funded through the city’s general fund, which is largely property tax revenue.
In the current fiscal year budget that ends June 30, the city’s general fund budget is $36 million and of that, $27.4 million were budgeted for police and safety. This year’s city tax revenue is projected at $22.9 million.
Since 1969, fire and emergency calls have increased by 700 percent, according to the city, but “due to staffing and a lack of resources, Great Falls’ first responders can only adequately respond to one major incident at a time – leading to longer emergency response times,” according to the city.
Commissioners voted in March to send a public safety levy to the November ballot with the following language:
“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.”
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.
Commissioners have not yet determined whether to send a public safety infrastructure bond to the November ballot.
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.
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 current proposal includes funding for two additional school resources officer positions, adding another $230,000 to the total levy proposal.