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Billings City Council looks at Yellowstone County proposal for short-term jail

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Posted at 12:32 AM, Feb 06, 2024

BILLINGS - The Billings City Council is looking to consider a Yellowstone County Commissioners' proposal for a short-term detention center.

The hope is that a temporary holding facility will solve some of the jail needs.

Commissioners are saying they need more money to make it happen.

Some council members want to exercise caution and others say this needs to happen quickly.

The city recently proposed contributing $500,000 toward a temporary jail.

The county came back and said what would work better is what it calls a short-term detention facility.

The cost of that would be potentially $6 million and commissioners would like the city to pay half and the county to pay half, $3 million each.

"What information do we need to know and understand?" Chris Kukulski, Billings city administrator asked during the council work session.

That $6 million would go toward a 96-bed, two-floor addition to the current jail.

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"This is really important and positive," said Billings Mayor Bill Cole. "The community's moving in a good direction."

Cole says while the original proposal had the city contributing $500,000 for a temporary modular structure, he likes the county's response for a more permanent structure, despite the cost.

"Both the city and the county recognize the importance of having consequences for bad behavior," Cole said. "These additional beds would allow police officers to come and take somebody for the jail to the jail for a short period of time until a judge can determine the terms of their release."

"Get this project off the ground and make Yellowstone County safe again," said Commissioner Mark Morse, R-Yellowstone County.

Morris says the first floor would have 48 beds and cost $4.7 million. Then to keep men and women separated, a second floor with 48 more beds would add $1.3 to $1.5 million.

"We will never be able to put additional cells in as cheap as that $1.3 to $1.5 million for 48 cells," Morse said.

While the mayor seems in favor, some of the council raised concerns about the proposal.

"Are you going to come back and ask the taxpayers in the city of Billings to pay more," Councilman Bill Kennedy asked about county taxpayers living in the city. "And that's kind of double dipping."

However, others like the proposal.

"The short-term holding facility is a piece of a larger puzzle," said Council member Jennifer Owen. "But that larger puzzle is really critical."

"This will be a great deal to help make the city of Billings Yellowstone County safer," Morse said.

"Neither the city nor the county are contemplating a specific ask to the voters," Cole said about not putting up a mill levy for the project. "We're all looking to other existing dollars to try to fund this important project."