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Outdated Public Safety Levy – A proposal to boost essential services

Posted at 9:20 PM, Jan 09, 2023
and last updated 2023-01-09 23:31:07-05

GREAT FALLS — Great Falls needs to adjust. That’s according to Mayor Bob Kelly.

“…the community is growing, and we need to get out in front of that… we've been woefully behind in funding these resources over the years, and we need to play a little catch up.”

At a Great Falls City Commission Work Session, the committee asked for a proposal for a Public Safety Levy. In its infancy stage, Chief of Police Jeff Newton created a data-based proposal that the department feels will meet the needs of understaffing, focus of officer duties on a shift, and growing crime rates by year.

A Public Safety Levy, that will not only affect the Great Falls Police Department but all emergency services, municipal court services, and prosecutor services.

“We're all intertwined, including law enforcement, fire, and medical services, as we've heard, prosecution services and municipal court services. And you can't have one without the other,” said Chief Newton at the January 3rd Work Session.

Each department has its own desires and needs with one common goal to keep up with an ever-changing city.

Great Falls hasn’t had the funding to take the proper initiative to reevaluate a levy as such. Commissioner Joe McKenney says that a levy like this has been glanced at but not assessed thoroughly in almost 40 years.

“…Now we have a growing economy, and we have these years of deferred maintenance, if we’re going to make a move, this is the time,” said McKenney.

That deferred maintenance comes as Newton propose nearly $4.5 million in funding to the police department. A number that almost all first responding services could see if the levy is voted in favor of.

“I think all anyone who lives here in our community is interested in public safety, whether it's dialing 911 and having somebody pick up the phone to having an ambulance or a fire truck show up at your house if you're having an emergency to the fact that we need police here because we have crime and then we need to prosecute those folks. I think everyone, every citizen is interested in public safety.” Mayor Kelly said.

The stipulation from voters can come from what will it do to tax dollars.

Kelly added, “…we talk about how much it will cost per $100,000 valuation of your home. And once we figure out on the exact number that we want to put forward to the voters, we'll have a number that corresponds to what kind of dollars that translates into additional taxes for people.”

Chief Newton understands that the proposed levy will raise taxes for those in the city limits. In his presentation at the work session that an officer’s shift, their focus is not always where it needs to be due to volume of calls and where they are needed most now. Hiring more officers for the police department can allow for more officers throughout the community and at the service to the people.

“We were simply just asked to provide a proposal which we think would be intentional, that we think we do provide the best service to our community and how we can accomplish that through staffing,” said Newton.

Commissioner McKenney shared that more personnel for the fire department can create safety based on arrival times.

“When there's a call for a fire department, the fire department wants to be there within 4 minutes. They get beyond 4 minutes. The damage is much more, and the loss of life potential is much more.”

Mayor Bob Kelly made a strong point that commission’s job is not to advise but to educate the citizens. They are to create what they feel is the best piece of legislature for voters to cast their ballot on.

“We want to make sure that we have a lean proposition, both in our fire response, our police response, and our court response to the additional firefighters and police officers that are there. So, we'll be trying to pare down the numbers to make it a minimal amount of a request so that the voters will have to sacrifice or be asked to sacrifice as little as possible to increase the services.” Mayor Kelly said.

Police Chief Newton reiterated that this levy is only in the infancy of its proposal and discussion throughout the commission will continue throughout the year until the best plan is approved.

McKenney added, “…We’re on the edge of failure, our community is treading water, the police department is treading water, the fire department is treading water. It is not going to get better, our community is growing, so we need to offer this to the community. The community will make the decision and we’ll see what happens.”

To view the full proposal from the Chief of police, click here. To view the full Work Session Meeting, click here. To view the agenda from the Work Session Meeting, click here.

This article was written by Ryan Gamboa (



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