Questions and Answers regarding the Public Safety Levy 2020

Public Safety Levy 2020 Frequently Asked Questions (Last updated 09-02-2020)

Q1 What will passage of this mill levy mean for the City of Billings

A1 If the new mill levy is approved it will replace the 2004 levy that was fixed at $8.2 million dollars with a new levy that is fixed at 60 mills. This was the original number of mills envisioned in 2004. This will allow the City tax revenue for Public Safety to increase as the City grows. Currently, as the City grows, the 2004 levy does not change and only generates a fixed $8.2 million.

Q2 What will failure of this mill levy mean for the City of Billings?

A2 If the 2020 Mill levy does not pass, the City will have to find other ways to increase revenue or decrease expenses. The adopted fiscal year 2019, 2020 and 2021 budget all anticipated spending approx. $5 million more than revenues.  Therefore, unless revenue increases take place, significant cuts to the Criminal Justice, Fire, Parks or Administration Departments will need to be made once reserve levels drop below recommended minimums in approx. 2022 or 2023.  The adopted 2020 fiscal year General Fund and Public Safety budgets break down in the following manor:

General/Public Safety Category

Percentage

FY2021 Budget

Criminal Justice (Police, Courts, Prosecution

49%

$ 30,686,000

Fire Department (Fire & 911 Dispatch)

33%

20,973,000

Park, Recreation & Public Lands

9%

5,617,000

Administration (Council, Admin., Human Resources, Finance)

9%

5,385,000

General Fund + Public Safety Fund Totals:

100%

$ 62,611,000


Q3 With all the development that occurs at the City, why doesn’t that cover increasing costs within our Police and Fire Departments?

A3 Currently the City has two mill levies that are solely for funding Public Safety. One passed in 1998 that is fixed at 20 mills and another passed in 2004 that is fixed at $8.2 million. As the city grows, the mill levy passed in 1998 does generate more revenue for the City’s Police and Fire Departments. However, the levy passed in 2004 does not generate any new money as the City grows. A median home in Billings is valued at 211,000. If a subdivision of 150 homes (all at the median value) is developed in the city, this would mean an additional $8,545.50 generated on the 1998 levy and $0 dollars related to the 2004 levy.

Q4 How many mills are currently levied under the 2004 Public Safety Mill Levy to generate $8.2 million?

A4 In 2019, there were 40.17 mills levied to generate the $8.2 million authorized in the 2004 Levy. When the levy was originally presented to the voters, it was anticipated at that time that it would take 60 mills to generate that $8.2 million. Due to continued growth at the City, the number of mills levied as actually decreased each year and peaked at 54.16 mills. The 2004 levy was phased in over 5 years. Below is the history of mills that have been levied since it was established:

Tax Year

Mills

Tax Year

Mills

2005

19.64

2013

54.36

2006

28.09

2014

44.59

2007

37.25

2015

46.13

2008

44.34

2016

45.22

2009

51.92

2017

43.32

2010

53.82

2018

42.88

2011

50.75

2019

40.17

2012

51.11




Q5 When are ballots going to be received, and when are they due?

A5 Ballots will be mailed out on August 28th. Ballots must be returned to the Yellowstone County Elections office by September 15th.

Q6 What has been the experience of the Billings Police Department calls for service since 2010?

A6 Since 2010, Billings Police Department calls for service has increased 55%. Over this same time-frame the population in the City of Billings increased 5%. In 2019, the Billings Police Department responded to 94,709 calls for service.

Q7 How much has violent crime increased in Billings over the past 10 years?

A7 Violent crime in Billings has more than doubled over the past 10 years. In 2010 there were 307 incidents of violent crime reported in Billings. Compared to 659 incidents in 2019, an increase of 115%.

Q8 How do City of Billings Fire Department response times compare to other cities in Montana?

A8 Due to the significant variables within each community it is very difficult to compare with any other Montana cities. Billings Fire covers an area exceeding 91 square miles. City - 43.75 sq. miles & BUFSA (Billings Urban Fire Service Area) – 47.73 sq. miles and serves an estimated population of 122,000. (City – 110,000 & BUFSA 12,000). By far the next most comparable City in Montana is Missoula. (34.23 sq. miles & 73,340 population). National (NFPA) Standard for single unit – 4 minutes. Billings Fire Department (BFD) single unit travel time – 7:29 minutes. Missoula Fire Department (MFD) single unit travel time – 6:37 minutes. National (NFPA) Standard for full alarm – 8 minutes. BFD first alarm travel time – 14:55 minutes. MFD first alarm travel time – 12:05 minutes.

Q9 What are the types of calls the Fire Department most commonly responds to?

A9 In 2019 the Billings Fire Department responded to 17,001 calls for service. 49% Emergency Medical & Rescue Calls. 51% Fires, Fire Alarms (malicious & non-malicious), Utilities Calls, Hazardous Materials, Gas Line Ruptures, Service Assists, etc.

Q10 Will the revenue from the Public Safety Mill Levy be put into the General Fund?

A10  No. The funds from the 2004 Public Safety Levy are placed into the Public Safety Fund, not the General Fund. The Public Safety fund pays for Police and Fire services only. No other department expenses are paid from the Public Safety Fund. If voters approve the 2020 levy that replaces the 2004 levy, the funds will be treated in the exact same manner and deposited into the Public Safety Fund. 

Q11 How much does the City spend on Police and Fire department services each year?

A11 In fiscal year 2021, the City budgeted $47,229,264 for Police and Fire Department services. This amount has grown over time as the city grows and costs increase. In 2011, the City budgeted $33,108,432 for Police and Fire services. While the budget has increased as costs have increased, the 2004 levy has remained fixed at $8.2 million over the same time-frame. 


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1. Questions and Answers regarding the Public Safety Levy 2020