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Billings leaders talk safety and need for more resources

Posted at 10:49 PM, Jan 16, 2020
and last updated 2020-01-17 00:49:10-05

BILLINGS — City officials said Thursday Billings faces challenges and needs quicker response times for emergency calls.

A meeting at the Billings Public Library Royal Johnson Community Room gave the public a chance to comment and ask about safety issues.

More police officers and firefighters would make Billings safer, according to city leaders.

The city handed out a questionnaire and the last question was: “Are you in favor of increasing investments into public safety?”

Chief Rich St. John said violent crime and property crime made a big jump in 2011 because of methamphetamine.

He said on average, nine officers can handle five to six calls per hour.

However, in 2018, the police received about 10 calls per hour.

Billings Fire Chief Bill Rash also talked about response times and said an eighth fire station, in the Heights, would help throughout the city.

The city wants to hear how much more in taxes that citizens are willing to pay.

"If we do go to a public safety mill levy, if directed by the council, then our community will determine what level of service they like,” Rash said. “And we'll do the very best we can do with what they are providing to us."

The Billings City Council has been discussing ways to fill a $2 million budget gap. One proposal is a public-safety levy, though the Council has not determined how much to ask voters or when to place the measure on the ballot.

"The citizens are going to determine what level of public safety they want,” St. John said. “And with whatever resources we get, we're going to go out and do our very best."

"One of the things we've struggled with is with that growth, not being able to keep up with the resource investments, kind of in this area in particular, " said Chris Kukulski, Billings city administrator.

Kukulski said the city can be just part of the solution.

He said the issues of drug addiction, incarceration, homelessness and mental illness are also helped by different organizations, along with county, state and federal government.

The meeting was the second of two on safety.