On Wednesday, August 3, 2022, the Cascade County Board of Commissioners will consider a Resolution of Intent to implement a public safety levy and submit it to a public vote. The levy is in the amount of $3.52 million dollars annually, and would increase property taxes for county residents. If approved, a home with a market value of $200k would see a tax increase of $54 annually. The money will primarily be used to meet recruitment and retention shortfalls for the Cascade County Sheriff's Office and the Cascade County Attorney’s office.
“If we don't get our places staffed appropriately and keep our numbers appropriate, it hurts public safety countywide and including the city,” said Cascade County Sheriff Jesse Slaughter. “So I think it will help tremendously not just with our own offices but enhancing the public safety of the Great Falls Police Department, Montana Highway Patrol, Fish and Game, all those other infrastructures that are dependent upon our services because we truly are the infrastructure for all the public safety in Cascade County.”
Right now, Cascade County lags behind other public safety departments in the area and across the state. According to the county staff report submitted with resolution, the starting salary for a CCSO deputy is 26% less than a new officer at the Great Falls Police Department. And the starting salary of a Cascade County deputy attorney is 17% less than starting salary for the Office of Public Defender. The funding would also help with pre-trial services.
Just like the Sheriff's office, the County Attorney's office is having recruitment and retention problems.
"This doesn't give us more attorneys, it allows us to retain the attorneys we have,” said Cascade County Attorney Josh Racki. “We're down almost 20% right now. We can't prosecute crimes as effectively and that delays things and keep people out on the streets or delays treatment, quite frankly, for people who need treatment. And so that would help a lot. And then the pretrial services to be to help lower the jail population, provide those people with services in the community to help get them on a better track even before we have a trial.”
Ultimately county officials believe passing the levy is a vital step to maintain necessary services and meet the needs of a growing community.
“We fulfilled all of our promises. We got brought a lot more service. And now we're having to start to cut back those services because it becomes difficult to have those specialties. It becomes difficult to have school resource officers,” Slaughter said. “It becomes difficult to have special investigators working crimes against property. Property crimes are a huge issue in this community. We have to have people investigating those crimes, closing those cases.”
If the resolution is approved by the board of commissioners on Wednesday, the county must a conduct a public hearing and submit the levy to the Clerk & Recorder's office by August 24th for it to be included on the November 8 general election ballot.
Click here to read the full text of the proposal (PDF).