Gallatin County Search and Rescue

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

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The Gallatin County Commission will decide on Tuesday whether to ask voters to approve tax increases for public safety on the June 2 ballot.

The commissioners are considering two mill levies — one for the 911 Dispatch Center and one for Search and Rescue.

The 911 Dispatch Center is seeking an increase to its budget of six mills — about $2.1 million — bringing the department’s total mill levy from nine to 15. The additional tax revenue would go toward upgrades to the county’s 911 communication systems as well as maintenance and operational needs.

“This is an outdated system that’s been pieced together over the years, and there are significant radio communications issues as a result,” said county administrator Jim Doar. “At the same time, to keep up with the county’s growth, we need more things like more dispatchers and managers.”

The six-mill levy for the 911 Dispatch Center would increase taxes for the owner of a $200,000 home by $16.20 annually.

In 2006, voters approved the existing nine-mill levy for the 911 Dispatch Center, which provides emergency communication services to first responders and manages criminal justice records.

Gallatin County Search and Rescue is looking for an additional two mills — about $705,700 annually — to maintain and expand its headquarters in Bozeman, Big Sky and West Yellowstone and to replace equipment like snowmobiles and four-wheel drive vehicles.

Search and Rescue now has one mill, which voters approved in 1986, and relies on 150 volunteers and a handful of trained sheriff’s deputies to respond to emergencies.

The Search and Rescue two-mill levy would cost about $5.40 annually for the owner of a $200,000 home.

For the last several months, the county commissioners have discussed providing additional money to the 911 Dispatch Center and Search and Rescue.

Initially, they were hesitant about the idea because they viewed the Gallatin Rest Home’s budget deficit and a new Law and Justice Center as higher priorities.

However, “the departments have convinced us of the need,” said commissioner Don Seifert. “We’ll see on Tuesday whether we decide to place both, one or none of the levies on the ballot.”

The proposed mill levies for public safety come on the heels of the commissioners’ failed push for a bond issue to replace the Law and Justice Center in November. The commissioners have decided against placing the building on the ballot for now.

If the commissioners approve the mill levies on Tuesday, they would be putting tax increases before the voters at the same time as other local officials. In May, the Bozeman City Commission intends to ask voters for a tax hike to pay for parks and trails.

Also in May, the Bozeman School District plans to place a transition levy of $1 million annually for six years to help cover the additional $2.3 million needed to run both Bozeman High and the new Gallatin High, which will open in the fall.

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

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