Following years of increasing call volumes and response times within the Kalispell police and fire departments, city officials are launching an educational campaign for voters as they advocate for a $4.6 million public safety levy this March.
City Manager Doug Russell presented the campaign at a Jan. 8 work session and told the council that a committee is working to inform the public about the high demand in public safety services and the need for additional tax dollars.
Councilors voted in November to approve a resolution that will put the emergency responder levy on a ballot for a special election on March 19. Kalispell voters rejected a public safety levy in 2014, which was the last time it was on the ballot.
If the levy is successful, it will add 11 law enforcement staff to the Kalispell Police Department (KPD) and 27 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.
“Our overall goal is to get it in front of as many people as we can so they are educated about the issue,” Russell said. “As we look out into the future, the need is not going to go away and as it goes on, we’re that much further pushing those call volumes [and] those response times down the line.”
According to the CPSM report, there has been a 38% spike in felony cases within the city in recent years and the levy would add two detectives and a crime analyst to meet that demand.
Additional law enforcement officers would also be hired, which would speed up response times. The police and fire department response times currently average about nine minutes, significantly slower than the national average of four minutes.
At the fire department, the total call volume between ambulance and fire responses has increased 23% in recent years.
The levy would add an additional ambulance, fire engine and a third station on Farm to Market Road to accommodate the growth in west Kalispell.
Russell said that since the police and fire departments currently take up 74% of the city’s general fund, there is no additional money available to cover the costs of the needed personnel and equipment.
While the city has gained new residents and property tax growth of 4%, those extra dollars have not kept up with inflation, which has spiked costs by 6%, Russell said.
“Just because you received a letter that says your house value has increased by 40%, we do not collect 40% in additional taxes,” Russell said. “We are restricted by that one half rate of inflation and new growth.”
“In all, actually we’re falling behind from a property tax perspective,” Russell added.
The committee produced an educational promotional video about the levy, which is currently being shown during movie previews at the Cinemark Signature Stadium Kalispell 14. Russell said he will continue presenting the levy at events across the county.
“Our goal is for the community to become educated and speak to what they want for their service delivery,” Russell said.
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