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Government

$4.6 Million Public Safety Levy Heads to Kalispell Voters in March

If passed, the levy would add dozens of staff to the city’s police and fire departments while adding a third station on Farm to Market Road

By Maggie Dresser
Firefighters at Kalispell Fire Station No. 62 on Jan. 20, 2021. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

The Kalispell City Council on Monday voted to approve a resolution that will put a $4.6 million Emergency Responder Levy on the ballot in a special election in March to let residents decide if they want to increase its law enforcement and fire department staffing levels.

A mail-in election will be held on March 19 for a dedicated Emergency Responder Levy. If the levy is successful, city officials will hire 11 additional law enforcement staff to the Kalispell Police Department (KPD) and 27 additional firefighter and medical staff positions. The city will also add a third fire station and purchase additional equipment within the fire department. For a property market value of $450,000, it would cost a resident $369 annually or $30.82 per month.

City staff proposed the levy in response to reports conducted by the Center for Public Safety Management (CPSM), which concluded that Kalispell’s population growth has outpaced its resources.

In the report, a consultant recommended adding one more firefighter per shift and constructing a third fire station along with more patrol staff, detectives and crime analysts.

All councilors supported the resolution and acknowledged the financial impact it would have on residents. City officials also said they advocated for allowing residents to decide if they wanted additional public safety.

“It’s about laying it out there for the voters to make a decision on and letting the process work its way through,” Councilor Chad Graham said.

Officials also emphasized the importance of appropriate staffing levels and acknowledged residents’ concerns about public safety.

“When you call 911 and you want these guys to show up – you want them right now,” Mayor Mark Johnson said. “When you’re in times of a crisis, three minutes seems like a lifetime. So I think it’s important we look at proper staffing or proper response times.”

The resolution comes after a report from the CPSM found that both KPD and the Kalispell Fire Department (KFD) are significantly understaffed, and the city’s resources are not keeping up with the population growth.

According to the report, the KFD and emergency medical services (EMS) personnel are struggling to keep up with the increased call volume within city limits as the population grows. Kalispell has grown by 19% since 2018, adding 4,500 residents, which has resulted in a spike in fire and EMS demand. In that same time frame, calls for service has grown by 23.5%. KFD and EMS is also lagging in response times, which is about five minutes longer than nationwide averages, according to the report.

The report also indicated that KPD staffing levels are inadequate and said it “appears the department has grown from a much smaller agency where it made sense that ranked positions in the department still did line-level work, yet it has not transitioned from that mindset and workflow as it has grown.”

Kalispell voters rejected an EMS levy in 2014, which was the last time it was on the ballot.

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