County commissioners put 8-mill levy increase to public vote

Originally published in the 8/4/17 print edition of Yellowstone County News.

BILLINGS — In a unanimous vote, Yellowstone County Commissioners approved a resolution calling for an increase in the Public Safety Mill Levy of 8 mills to be put before the voters on Nov. 7.

County Attorney Scott Twito, whose office will primarily benefit from the additional revenue, made the request of the county commissioners, saying “This is difficult for me.” But, he said, the burden being faced by his office and the continuing increase in felony crimes “hits a lot of area of the office.”

The number of felony cases has doubled, and the number of abused and neglected child cases have tripled, since 2011, the tenure in which Twito has served as County Attorney. In 2016, the County Attorney’s office filed 426 cases.

The proposed perpetual 8-mill increase will supplement the 4.14 mills already in place for the Public Safety Levy, which was created in 2000.

It is estimated that they will generate an additional $2.752 million annually. The assessment on the fair market value of a $100,000 home would be $10.80 a year, or $21.60 on a $200,000 home.

More impact is being felt in Twito’s office with the addition of two new District Court judges, approved by the state Legislature because of the rising crime rate. Twito noted that a study regarding Yellowstone County judicial needs found that the county actually needs six new District Court judges.

At the same time the state Legislature cut funding for victim/witness fees, which means the county must pick up the cost, and the state has added to the number of people defined as victims, which increases the demand for victims’ services.

In assessing the additional demands, “It is obvious that it is unsustainable at the current staffing level,” said Twito. “We are growing and the Legislature has recognized that in adding judges, but that puts a burden on the county. You have already seen that in how the sheriff has had to expand the jail. We are interconnected and the demand affects my office as well.”

The increase in the mill levy not only meets the current needs, but will meet the needs into the future.

“None of us likes taxes, but the taxpayers can see there is a need. No matter how innovative we are, there is always going to be crime,” said Twito.

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