Daily Inter Lake | October 9, 2023 12:00 AM
Kalispell City Council on Monday is expected to review options for a potential emergency responder levy that could go before voters in a special election next year.
Discussion of a possible levy emerged in later summer following independent audits of the city’s Fire and Police departments. Undertaken by the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Public Safety Management, the reviews found significant needs in both agencies, including additional staffing.
City Council will meet for the work session at City Hall, 201 First Ave. E., at 7 p.m. For more information on how to attend or participate, including remotely, visit https://www.kalispell.com/agendacenter.
In a memo to Council, City Manager Doug Russell wrote that he anticipates presenting three options to pursue. The first, a roughly $2.4 million annual levy would add $193.84 to the yearly tax bill on a house with a market value of $450,000. Option two, which comes in at about $2.95 million annually, would add $236.50. The final option, amounting to $4.6 million annually, would add $369.89.
City staff are recommending that Council select the second option to put before voters. In his memo, Russell wrote that the $2.95 million levy would address staffing and equipment concerns outlined in the audits.
“With this option, we are hoping to balance the service delivery needs identified in the [Center for Public Safety Management] report with the realization that tax levies are a very real concern,” Russell wrote.
Option two would allow for the hiring of two detectives, eight officers and a crime analyst for the Police Department as well as 10 first responders and two trainers at the Fire Department, according to documents in Council’s packet.
The audit of the Fire Department also recommended officials proceed with plans to construct a third fire station. While option two would fall short of securing the necessary dollars, Russell argued that it would give emergency responders breathing room in the interim.
“This option does not address the development of a third station, but it would stabilize the departments’ staffing needs as we look to additional funding sources to aid in station development,” he wrote.
The $4.6 million third option would give the city the resources to meet all staffing needs and fully staff a third fire station, but Russell expressed concerns about the viability of such a large ask of taxpayers.
Russell wrote that the first option, the least amount of funds, was presented as a reference. It would fall short of addressing the needs outlined in the audits, he wrote.
“Yet, if that were the option to move forward, we would be failing to address the immediate outcomes identified in the [Center for Public Safety Management] report and be facing situations where response units would not be placed into service on respective shifts,” he wrote.
Discussion of the possible levy is the sole topic on the Oct. 9 agenda.
Council discussed last month the merits of hiring an outside firm to launch an informational campaign ahead of the levy request. While state law forbids municipalities from employing public resources to campaign for a ballot initiative, Russell argued that educating voters on the demands facing first responders was a city responsibility.
News Editor Derrick Perkins can be reached at 758-4430 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Read this article on the Daily Interlake.