The City of Great Falls hosted their first forum on the proposed Public Safety Levy on Wednesday evening to give the public a chance to understand and ask questions before they get to make their decision on the November 7th ballot.
According to some city officials and agencies, it's been more than 50 years since Great Falls voters have passed public safety funding and since then, the city has grown by 44 percent, resulting in difficulties for public safety departments.
Those who participated the forum and Q&A included Great Falls Police Chief Jeff Newton, Great Falls Fire Chief Jeremy Jones, Great Falls City Attorney David Dennis, City Manager Greg Doyon, Great Falls Municipal Court Judge Steve Bolstad, and Great Falls CFO Melissa Kinzler.
All six expressed their support for the Public Safety Levy.
Some of the topics surrounded fire and emergency medical calls increasing by 700 percent since 1969.
Chief Jones noted the challenges that come with personnel having to respond to one major incident at a time, leading to longer response times for other emergencies. Jones also mentioned the problems that being understaffed can present.
In the case of a single-family structure fire, 15 firefighters are required on scene, where as GFFR runs approximately 13 staff at any given time. According Jones, response times on Great Falls Fire Rescue calls are now well below national standards.
Police Chief Jeff Newton also raised the issue of violent crimes, and assaults on police officers. During the forum, it was noted that assaults on GFPD officers increased 133 percent since 2018.
Currently, Great Falls Fire Rescue, Great Falls Police Department, and the municipal court services are lacking in funding.
That lack of funding, for example, has pushed Great Falls Fire Rescue to an Insurance Service Office rating of 3. The ISO rating is a 1-10 scale, where the lowest number implies a city has better services. Currently, GFFR is looking to keep its calls under four minutes to all areas of the city and it struggles to answer calls effectively. With the needs of the department and other agencies, Great Falls can see itself decline in that rating, which could impose other homeowner insurance increases.
If passed, the City of Great Falls is authorized to permanently levy up to 103.75 mills, an approximate total of $10,717,305.
According to the City Manager’s office, the levy would impose tax implications on homeowners on an assessed home at a $100,000 basis for an increase of $140.06 per year. For a $300,000 home, the levy would increase taxes to $420.18 per year. Finally, for a $600,000 appraised home, taxes would increase to $840.36 per year. Tax implications that not only fall to homeowners but to renters potentially face rising rental costs.
With the expected tax increases if the Public Safety Levy increases, the city is also requesting a Capital Bond. If the bond election is passed, based on the taxable value of the City in the fiscal year 2023, and assuming the bonds are issued in one series at the interest rate of 5.00% per annum, the property taxes on a home with an assessed market value for tax purposes of $100,000 would increase by $22.20 per year; property taxes on a home with an assessed market value for tax purposes of $300,000 would increase by $66.60 per year; and property taxes on a home with an assessed market value for tax purposes of $600,000 would increase by $133.20 per year. An increase in property taxes may lead to a rise in rental costs. This information was provided by the Great Falls City Manager’s Office.
A second public forum will be hosted at the Civic Center in the Mansfield Theater on September 18th from 6pm-8pm.
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