For the second time in 14 months, Billings voters appear headed to approve a public safety mill levy. The $7.1 million ballot initiative was leading in early, unofficials returns Tuesday at 61 percent.
The results after the second count were 17,882 votes for compared to 10,770 against.
The margin of victory was smaller this time than in 2020, when voters passed the first public safety levy update since 2004 by more than a 2-to-1 ratio.
Citizens for a Safer Billings, a group formed in early September to campaign for the 2021 levy, said the 2020 version was to plug a budget gap and maintain critical fire and police services. This version by contrast will create significant growth for the police and fire departments, as well as legal and health services throughout the city.
The biggest chunk of the levy money—just under $2.5 million-- will go to police. Twenty-eight full-time employees will be added—14 sworn officers, and 14 civilians. Another $1.5 million will be invested in the fire department—much of that for the medical response team.
Billings’ rising violent crime rate is the main impetus behind the additional resources. According to the FBI, in 2019, the city’s rate of 610 violent crimes per 100,000 adults was 65% higher than the national average of 370. Billings Fire Chief Pepper Valdez added that the number of calls into the Billings fire department has nearly doubled in the last decade.
Seven legal positions will be added, and courts will receive help with an additional judge and staff. Three more code enforcement officers will be hired, and $415,000 a year will be spent on mental health and substance abuse services.
The 2020 levy gathered $12.2 million per year on 60 mills. Now, $19.3 million per year will be collected. Property owners absorb the entire cost. This levy will raise the taxes on a median-priced $217,000 home by about $100 per year.