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Public safety levy passes Billings City Council first reading

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Posted at 10:46 PM, Jun 14, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-15 00:46:52-04

BILLINGS — In a 10-1 vote Monday night, members of the Billings city council passed the first reading of a $7.1 million public safety mill levy aimed at growing police, firefighting, legal, code enforcement and mental health and substance abuse resources in Billings.

"There are people out there who have gotten away with things that they shouldn't have, due to our unfortunate lack of resources," said Gina Dahl, Billings city attorney.

The levy will be before the Council again for a second reading on June 28, according to the Council agenda. If the second reading is approved, voters will have the final say at the ballot box November 2.

If approved by the voters, the owner of a Billings home worth $217,000 (the median home value in the city) would pay an additional $100.41 per year on their property tax bill.

Ahead of the vote and Council discussion, leaders from the Billings police, fire, code enforcement, and legal departments presented the council with information on what the $7.1 million would buy for each department. The need for more staff was a sentiment reiterated across all departments.

City Administrator Chris Kukulski presented a breakdown of how the money would be spent across the departments.

Public Safety Mill Levy Distribution

  • $1.3 million - To fix an existing deficit
  • $415,000 - Implement mental health / substance abuse programs in the courts
  • $1.6 million - Implement police department recommendations made in Center For public Safety Management study
  • $800,000 - Additional police resources
  • $1.5 million - Implement fire department recommendations made in Center for Public Safety Management study
  • $1.4 million - Legal, court and code enforcement - $1.4 million

The money would add a slew of positions across the departments. The police department could add 20 full-time positions in evidence or other support roles and eight full-time officer positions, according to Kukulski's presentation.

The fire Department could staff two mobile response teams made up of 10 members each who would be more mobile and hopefully better distribute the department's resources when responding to calls, said Pepper Valdez, Billings deputy fire chief.

Code Enforcement would hire three additional enforcement officers if the levy passed, according to Kukulski's presentation. With the additional staff, the department could move to a more proactive approach, rather than the complaint-driven approach that has been the standard for years, said Wyeth Friday, Billings planning and community services director.

The city's legal team would hire three attorneys two paralegals and two support staff with the levy money, according to Kukulski's presentation. Currently, four prosecutors have been handeling between 5,000 to 6,000 cases per year over the past five years and total cases have increased over the years, said Gina Dahl, Billings city attorney.

Kukulski said the plan would be to hire one additional full-time judge along with their support staff if the levy passed. The judge would preside over the presumably larger number of cases going to trial due to the increased help in the legal department.

Council Member Frank Ewalt voted in opposition of the first reading of the levy. Council Members Kendra Shaw, Mike Yakawich, Roy Neese, Danny Choriki, Denise Joy, Pam Purinton, Penny Ronning, Mike Boyett, Shaun Brown and Mayor Bill Cole voted in favor.

The Council also approved a bid to add a traffic signal to the intersection of Rimrock Road and Virginia Lane. The intersection was the location of a crash that killed a Billings West High School student in February. The contract was awarded to Everett, Washington - Elcon Corporation who bid about $221,000 to install the signal, according to the Council agenda.

To watch the complete Billings City Council meeting, click here.

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