Bozeman Public Safety Center

A city of Bozeman rendering shows the future Bozeman Public Safety Center. The project is about $7.3 million below budget. City officials said residents will see lower-than-expected taxes for the center's construction.

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Bozeman’s getting its new public safety center.

The city asked voters to OK a $36.9 million bond to build the new center for its police, courts, victim services and the fire crew currently at Fire Station No. 1.

By Thursday morning, the bond was ahead by more than 4,000 votes with the support of 12,800 people. Election Administrator Charlotte Mills said only unresolved and provisional ballots remained and estimated that’s roughly 2,500 ballots.

Next, the city will create a timeline and pick a firm to finish the building’s drawings. Construction is set to begin this summer with the center ready by fall 2020.

Fire Chief Josh Waldo said while the city works together on final plans, they’ll operate as normal.

“This answers this decades-to-come question for Fire Station No. 1, and it addresses a lot of the city’s issues for generations now,” Waldo said.

Long voter lines on Election Day and continued machine jams delayed Gallatin County results, keeping city officials anxiously waiting more than a day after polls closed for an answer. On Thursday, Mayor Cyndy Andrus repeated her thanks to voters.

“It’s the solution for our four pressing public safety needs today and into the future,” she said.

The initiative’s success will cost homeowners roughly $102 a year. That’s for someone with a house valued at $292,000, not what it would sell for. The 82,000-square-foot building is planned for city land at Rouse Avenue and Oak Street.

The ballot’s success means Bozeman employees will eventually move out of Gallatin County’s crammed and unsound Law and Justice Center.

City Commissioner Jeff Krauss said it’s been roughly 15 years since Bozeman prioritized an updated space. In the meantime, those working in the Law and Justice Center relied on places like bathrooms for their locker room and hallways for storage.

“I’m really happy to finally get this done for police and the firemen now, but for the police in particular after so many years of knowing the conditions that they worked in,” he said.

Police Chief Steve Crawford said the department’s grateful for the city’s vote.

“I’ve talked with the sheriff already and we will continue to collaborate, working through the details of the things that will change and the things that will remain the same,” Crawford said.

Leading up to Election Day, Gallatin County Sheriff Brian Gootkin and County Attorney Marty Lambert said they wanted to keep law enforcement and courts under the same roof.

On Thursday, Gootkin congratulated the city’s success.

“It will never be the same obviously, but the voters spoke, and I appreciate that and will do everything in my power to keep our relationship strong,” he said. “I commend the city citizens; it’s pretty cool they care about their police, fire and courts to take care of them that way.”

The city made two other attempts with voters — once on its own and once with a Gallatin County-Bozeman combination — to get the OK for the project. In past elections, some voters either didn’t trust the city’s ask or mistook it for an attempt to get a new jail.

Krauss said part of the final success is due to leaders and staff who defined the project to voters. He said the failed city-county combo also made people more willing to consider a Bozeman center.

Gallatin County still needs a way out of the current Law and Justice Center. Building reports show the former school would cost more to repair than to rebuild.

Krauss said that may be a challenge.

“Most people appreciate and know what police and fire do. Not everybody gets in contact with the district court if they can help it. That makes it a hard case,” Krauss said. “I wish (Gallatin County) the best.”

Before the election, a majority of county commissioners supported the city’s ballot, including Commissioner Joe Skinner. He said with a Bozeman answer in hand, Gallatin County will ramp up its effort to get a final county plan together.

“There’s always a concern taking another plan to the voters. It will be especially hard for them to understand the need for the county now that Bozeman’s (plan) passed. But that’s just something we’ll have to overcome,” Skinner said.

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Katheryn Houghton can be reached at khoughton@dailychronicle.com or at 582-2628. Follow her on Twitter @K_Hought.

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