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.

Bozeman voters leaned in support of the city’s proposed $36.9 million public safety center as of early Wednesday morning as election workers counted ballots.

As of 1 a.m., the Bozeman Public Safety Center had 4,037 votes in favor and 2,785 against the project. While many votes remained to be counted, nearly 60 percent of those early tallies were in favor of the bond. The center includes space for Bozeman police, victim and court services and a new Fire Station No.1.

If it survives, the plan would cost homeowners roughly $102 a year. That’s for someone with a home at the taxable value of $292,000, not what the home would sell for.

City leaders have called the project the best fix yet for Bozeman safety crews running out of space in aging buildings. Bozeman Deputy Mayor Chris Mehl said he knows things could change as votes were counted Wednesday morning.

“If the results hold, we’ll go out to bid soon and make sure we build the project on time and on budget and do it as efficiently as possible,” Mehl said.

The 82,000-square-foot building is set to go on city land at Rouse Avenue and Oak Street.

For more than a decade, getting its staff out of the Law and Justice Center has been among the city’s top priorities. The center, shared with Gallatin County, is running out of space and the latest studies show it would cost more to repair the building than to replace it.

This election season, Bozeman employees spent more than 556 hours on the center ballot initiative and the city put roughly $27,827 into getting the word out on the details of the bond. Bozeman also spent $32,263 on its latest design plans.

Montana law allows public employees and bodies to plug time, money and resources into campaign issues when it’s tied to their function.

As the clock neared 1 a.m., only 20,771 of Gallatin County absentee ballots were counted out of the county’s roughly 80,000 registered voters. Bozeman Commissioner Terry Cunningham sat in the elections office waiting for the next round of results.

“We are cautiously optimistic,” Cunningham said. “If this passes, we’re extremely grateful to Bozeman citizens for their investment in public safety for generations to come.”

When asked for a response for what’s next if it doesn’t pass, Cunningham replied, “I don’t entertain negative thoughts.”

Bozeman voters turned down two plans in past elections to get first responders, victim services and city courts out of the Law and Justice Center. The first was for a Bozeman proposal and the second a city-county combination.

Gallatin County commissioners have said they’re building plans for a county solution on the Law and Justice Center’s current campus, though they’ve added they’re watching for what Bozeman voters decide.

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

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