City Commissioners vote to send public safety infrastructure bond to the November ballot
City Commissioners voted unanimously during their June 20 meeting to send a $21.17 million public safety infrastructure bond to the November ballot.
The bond is separate, and in addition to the proposed $10.7 million public safety operations levy already on the November ballot.
If proposed ballot language is:
Shall the City Commission of the City of Great Falls, Montana (the “City”) be authorized to sell and issue general obligation bonds of the City for the purpose of paying the costs of public safety improvements in the City, including acquiring land and designing, constructing and equipping thereon a new fire station, which may serve additional safety functions, purchasing new fire equipment and, if funds remain, making improvements to existing fire stations; renovating and expanding the police department and city attorney’s offices; and related improvements; and costs associated with the sale and issuance of the bonds?
The bonds may be sold in one or more series, in an aggregate principal amount not to exceed Twenty-One Million One Hundred Seventy-Five Thousand and No/100 Dollars ($21,175,000.00), bearing interest at rates to be determined at the time of the sale, payable semiannually over the term not to exceed twenty years for each series of bonds.
If this bond election is passed, based on the taxable value of the City in fiscal year 2023, and assuming the bonds are issued in one series at the interest rate of 5.00% per annum, the property taxes on a home with an assessed market value for tax purposes of $100,000 would increase by $22.20 per year; property taxes on a home with an assessed market value for tax purposes of $300,000 would increase by $66.60 per year; and property taxes on a home with an assessed market value for tax purposes of $600,000 would increase by $133.20 per year.
An increase in property taxes may lead to an increase in rental costs.
Commissioners have been discussing the need for additional public safety resources for years.
Commissioner Rick Tryon said that “our job is to present to the voters the vote.”
He said that they’ve looked at public safety needs closely for awhile and have listened to their department heads.
Tryon said the appropriate action is to send the question to the voters.
“This is going to be your decision,” Tryon said. “We’re not making the final decision, we’re setting it up so you can make the final decision.”
Commissioner Joe McKenney said they’ve been asked why they’re sending the levy and bond to the November ballot.
He said the asks go hand in hand and that the city has no control over the levy requests from other agencies such as the county or school district.
Last year, county voters approved a 14 mill public safety that this year equates to $2.46 million. Those funds only support the county public safety agencies, including the Cascade County Sheriff’s Office and the County Attorney’s Office.
Voters just approved up to 17 mills for the Great Falls Public Library that equates to about an additional $1.5 million for the library’s operating budget. Only city residents pay that levy.
In recent weeks, several people have said they didn’t know an infrastructure bond was being considered.
Commissioners and city staff have been discussing the public safety ask for months and the possibility of an infrastructure bond was mentioned in December 2022 in a commission work session.
Commissioners have been discussing the needs and the possibility of the separate infrastructure bond for public safety in multiple work sessions, which are open to the public and were reported on by The Electric since December.
City officials have been discussing the need for additional public safety resources for years.
In 2021, commissioners created a crime task force to review public safety issues in Great Falls and make recommendations.
Some of those recommendations could be implemented with existing budget resources, but many could not, according to city documents and many public discussions.
“Upon further discussion with the City Commission, there was general recognition that the city’s broader public safety response posture has been inadequate, and is unable to service current and future needs of a growing community. Over several work sessions, community discussions, and annual budget adoption processes, the commission concluded that the general fund, capped by a statewide property tax cap, would never be able to sufficiently meet the service level desired by taxpayers and fund the broad continuum of public safety needs across fire, police, court and legal departments,” according to the staff report.
During multiple public meetings, commissioners developed a request for a public safety operations levy. That proposal includes additional personnel and equipment.
Commissioners and staff determined the operational levy should be separate from the infrastructure bond due to differences in the ballot language needed.
The proposed $21.17 million infrastructure bond includes the following capital improvements:
A 2009 public safety levy was rejected by voters.
In 1969, voters approved a $1.96 million bond to build the existing fire stations and training center.
The total tax impact to Great Falls property owners would be:
Commissioners will take public comment during their June 20 meeting on whether to send the infrastructure to the ballot.