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Great Falls Fire Chief reacts to levy defeat

Posted at 5:12 PM, Nov 08, 2023
and last updated 2023-11-09 12:20:38-05

The Great Falls municipal election took place on Tuesday, November 7, 2023, and voters rejected the proposed public safety mill levy. There were 14,715 votes cast in the levy election. Of those, 9,095 people voted no (62%), and 5,620 voted yes (38%). In the video above, reporter Cade Menter talks with Great Falls Fire Chief Jeremy Jones about the defeat of the proposal.

YES: 5,620
NO: 9,095

YES: 6,726
NO: 7,925

With both proposals failing, the question as to what this means for city officials moving forward has become a topic of conversation.

Great Falls Fire Chief Jeremy Jones said, "Regardless of the library levy, regardless of a park levy years ago or the county sheriff's levy last year, the fact that our county and city are bringing these elections is because we're handcuffed in how funding for these different mechanisms comes in."

Some of the points that Chief Jones mentioned during discussions and forums on public safety, was that the city is lacking in funding.

Jones said GFFR protected 15 square miles in 1972, compared to the 27 square miles they cover now. In 1972, GFFR had 103 personnel. Now they have 71.

GFFR currently has 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.

A levy was introduced by city officials in 2009.

"In my opinion, when the levy failed in 2009 and we waited until 2023 to put another levy before the voters, a couple of things came up," Jones said. "One, we kept getting, 'why did you wait so long?' We tried in '09, and the fact of the matter is, we just need to keep trying to show them and get that education and that knowledge out to the public until they truly realize just how fragile public safety stance in our community is."

Jones pointed out that the National Fire Protection Association says 17 firefighters should respond to a single family house fire.

"The best we can do is 13," Jones said. If no one is hurt and no one is on vacation, we might be able to hit that 14 mark, but everyday, we're at 13 with four resources."

While both the levy and the bond were struck down, Jones says he doesn't consider this a failure. He says he is still going to continue his mission in educating the public on the challenges that first responders have been dealing with, and the role public safety plays in communities.

"We're going to have to come back to the drawing board and we're going to be in front of the public and in the future," Jones said. "I don't know when that will be, but it needs to be sooner than later. We can't wait another 14 years."