Gallatin County Search and Rescue

A shadow falls in front of the Gallatin County Search and Rescue building on Aug. 5, 2020, off East Tamarack Street.

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Gallatin County Search and Rescue hopes to use additional tax money voters approved in June to hire three new staff members, replace aging equipment and set aside money for future needs.

The department’s proposed budget totals about $1.08 million with the majority coming from the $700,000 voter-approved tax hike.

The Gallatin County Commissioners have yet to approve the department’s budget but will discuss the request as part of a budget meeting on Friday.

The three new staff will include a sheriff’s captain to lead the department, an administrative worker and someone to oversee equipment and training.

Search and rescue now relies on about 160 volunteers and is overseen by the sheriff’s patrol division captain who also has other duties. Over the years, the number and complexity of emergencies the department responds to have increased, posing a challenge for search and rescue volunteers.

“It’s nice that we have these volunteers we can rely on but also having a dedicated staff is beneficial,” said Mark Woodard, chief financial officer for the sheriff’s office.

Some of the budget increase will go toward vehicles for two of the three new positions and replacement of some old equipment.

The department will also be able to set aside money for large projects including replacing or expanding its headquarters in Bozeman, Big Sky and West Yellowstone.

“Search and rescue will be able to use the reserve for equipment needs in the future and, eventually, for building improvements without having to go back to the taxpayers with a big request or rely on more creative funding sources,” Woodard said.

Jason Jarrett, retired search and rescue commander, said he worked on a strategic plan for search and rescue several years ago, and even at that time, the department couldn’t afford to keep up with its equipment needs.

“Hoping we’ll have enough put away by the time we desperately need it … is not a good plan for us,” Jarrett said to the county commissioners when presenting the budget this week.

In June, voters also gave the commissioners the ability to levy a maximum of $2.1 million for upgrades to the county’s 911 communications system and new staff for the 911 Dispatch Center.

The commissioners have decided to levy about $1.62 million for the center. That tax revenue won’t increase the center’s budget by $1.62 million but will replace general fund dollars commissioners have used for the center in the past.

The majority — about $900,000 — of the newly available general fund money will go to the Gallatin Rest Home, which has struggled financially in recent years in part due to the rising cost of care.

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

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