Gallatin County Search and Rescue

The Gallatin County Search and Rescue building Friday afternoon in Bozeman.

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Gallatin County voters will decide in June whether to raise property taxes to pay for the 911 Dispatch Center and Search and Rescue.

The Gallatin County Commissioners unanimously approved Tuesday the inclusion of two mill levies in the June 2 election. The levies will appear as separate ballot questions.

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

The Search and Rescue provide about $706,000 to the department and would increase taxes for the same homeowner by $5.40.

The additional tax revenue for the 911 Dispatch Center would pay for upgrades to the county’s 911 communications system and would fund future staffing and operational needs.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Sheriff Brian Gootkin urged county commissioners to place the 911 mill levy on the ballot.

“This would be a huge step forward to take care of those people (first responders), but more importantly, the public that we’re responsible for, so I’m fully in support of this,” he said.

Voters last approved a mill levy for the dispatch center in 2006. Since then, the county has grown and had to supplement the dispatch center budget with general fund dollars, taking away from other government services, commissioner Joe Skinner said.

Without the additional money, commissioner Don Seifert said it would be challenging for the county to improve its radio system, which enables all first responders in the county to communicate with one another.

“We take sheriff’s deputies and send them out to the far reaches of the county, and sometimes currently, they won’t have radio communications, and I think it’s important that if we ask these deputies to do this that they can call for help, call for whatever they need,” Seifert said.

Search and Rescue Commander Jeremy Kopp said his department, which relies on about 160 volunteers and a handful of trained sheriff’s deputies, needs more money for training, maintaining its headquarters, responding to emergencies and purchasing equipment.

“Is a cup of coffee a year worth supporting the volunteers that will come out and get you when your good day goes bad?” Kopp said.

The commissioners acknowledged the importance of Search and Rescue, especially for a place so focused on outdoor recreation.

“We promote our county as a great place to live, a great place to do outdoor activities,” Seifert said. “… If we’re going to go out and advertise that this is the place to do all this extreme stuff, we have a duty to provide the services when those things go bad.”

Even if voters pass the tax increases, the commissioners said they wouldn’t automatically levy the full approved amounts and would continue to review the 911 Dispatch Center and Search and Rescue budgets to ensure tax dollars are used responsibly.

The commissioners have spent the last few months discussing the two mill levies for the 911 Dispatch Center and Search and Rescue. They initially voiced uncertainty about asking voters for the tax hikes, saying the Gallatin Rest Home’s budget deficit and replacing the Law and Justice Center were more pressing.

The public safety mill levies follow the commissioners’ failed bid for a bond issue to construct a new Law and Justice Center. The commissioners have put the building on hold.

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

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