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Billings City Council to continue public safety levy discussion Monday

The city is short about $2 million in the general/public safety funds
Posted at 5:27 PM, Nov 04, 2019
and last updated 2019-11-04 19:47:16-05

BILLINGS — Members of the Billings City Council and its departments will continue discussions about what to do to fix a $2 million shortfall in the public safety and general funds at the Lincoln Center School District Board Room at 5:30 p.m. Monday.

The council made cuts to the fire and police departments in July to shrink the shortfall from about $6 million to $2 million.

Part of those cuts included the elimination of active shooter, hazardous material, rope and water rescue training for the Billings Fire Department.

In his quarterly report presented at a council meeting in Oct., Billings Fire Chief Bill Rash wrote, "It is with great pain and apprehension that I have had to direct the training division to eliminate future training with the police department" ... "I will continue going on record stating that these cuts in training compromise the safety and well-being of our firefighters and the public that we serve."

According to the council agenda, at the meeting, the body will "refine the scope" of the city's next steps and discuss Billings public safety needs in the immediate future, five years and ten years away.

Representatives from the Billings police and fire departments, code enforcement, municipal court, and 9-1-1 dispatch will be involved in the discussion.

The council has been mulling the introduction of a public safety mill levy next year since it passed the 2020 budget in June.

Depending on the size of the ask, the owner of a $200,000 home could pay between $14.50 - $29 more per year in property taxes.

The council agenda states the $2 million shortfall was created because tax revenue taken in by the city over the last 10 years has not kept up with the amount of money spent on the police and fire departments.

The police and fire departments make up about 77 percent of the general and public safety funds. Over the past 10 years, money spent on police and fire increased at a rate of 4 percent while the amount of money coming in has only increased 2.6 percent in that same time.

The agenda prepared by city staff states this lack of revenue and increase of operational costs, "has created a funding gap that is not sustainable."

At the Monday meeting, council members, city staff, and department heads will take in 54 PowerPoint slides containing information about Billings first responder data.

The slides cover fire and police response times, calls for service, Billings statistics compared to other similar cities and future public safety needs.

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