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Ballots for the June primary election were mailed to voters in Gallatin County on Friday.

The ballot includes several statewide races as well as contests for local legislative seats and two proposed tax increases to pay for public safety in Gallatin County.

One increase is for the 911 Dispatch Center and would raise property taxes by $16.20 for the owner of a $200,000 home. The increase would bring in about $2.1 million annually.

The other increase is for search and rescue, a division of the sheriff’s office. It would provide about $706,000 each year and would raise taxes for the same homeowner by $5.40.

The Gallatin County Commission decided in early March to place the tax increases on the ballot. Shortly afterward, they became preoccupied with the coronavirus pandemic, but it was too late to remove the questions from the ballot. Instead, the county decided not to educate the public on the tax hikes as it had planned.

“There are more pressing issues, and we are aware that people are struggling economically, so it didn’t seem like the right time,” said commissioner Don Seifert.

However, county officials say the tax increases are still needed.

The new tax revenue for the 911 Dispatch Center would pay for additional staff and upgrades to the county’s 911 communications system.

The new communications system would cover a larger geographic area than the existing system does, said director Tim Martindale. It will also allow the county to eventually offer text-to-911 service.

The center’s budget hasn’t increased significantly since 2006, but the annual call volume has increased from about 56,000 in 2006 to about 135,000 in 2019, Martindale said. Even though the number of calls has nearly tripled, the center only has one more dispatcher than it did in 2006.

“We’ve grown a lot as a county, so we’re at capacity in terms of finances, personnel and space,” Martindale said. “We’re bursting at the seams.”

Search and rescue also needs more tax revenue to keep up with the county’s growth, said Sheriff Brian Gootkin.

If voters approve the tax increase, search and rescue would hire three people — a sheriff’s captain to lead the division, someone to oversee equipment and training and someone to focus on administrative tasks. For now, search and rescue relies on about 160 volunteers and is overseen by the patrol division captain who has several other responsibilities, Gootkin said.

Some of the tax money would also be set aside for maintenance of search and rescue’s buildings in Bozeman, Big Sky and West Yellowstone. Some may be saved for future space needs.

Ballots must be received no later than 8 p.m., on Election Day, June 2. The county is covering the cost of return postage. Voters are asked to seal their envelopes with tape.

Polling places won’t be open for the election, but the county will collect ballots on June 2 in the parking lots of its usual polling locations.

Voters may also complete their ballot at the election department in the county courthouse on West Main Street. To ensure county employees and visitors stay 6 feet apart, only five voters will be allowed in the office at a time.

The election department encourages calling or emailing before appearing in-person to see if issues can be resolved remotely.

To minimize in-person interactions, the election department plans to offer registration applications via email. Registration forms must be printed, signed and scanned or photographed. The county won’t accept stylus or typed signatures.

Voters can check their registration status on the “My Voter Page” of the secretary of state’s website or by calling the county election department.

The all-mail election is a response to the coronavirus pandemic. Gov. Steve Bullock allowed counties to switch to a mail-ballot election in late March. Shortly after, the Gallatin County Commission voted to hold a mail-ballot primary.

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Perrin Stein can be reached at pstein@dailychronicle.com or at 582-2648.

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