Funds

County leaves public safety funding on the table


Flathead County Commissioners last week took an earful about the dire need for more funding for the Sheriff’s Office — and the message came straight from the horse’s mouth, so to speak.

“We’ve always tried to be conservative with the use of tax dollars and run operations minimally, but we’ve had huge population growth and now we’re falling even more behind,” Sheriff Brian Heino said, pleading with the commissioners for additional funds in the 2023 budget.

Heino rightly pointed out that the department’s staffing level hasn’t kept pace with the valley’s rapid growth. What’s worse, the department currently is down about eight deputies — a figure that should worry every resident who values public safety and the well-being of law enforcement.

The commissioners responded by increasing the Sheriff’s Office budget by about $1.8 million over last year, or 15%. And while that’s a sizable bump, it could have, and should have been more.

For fiscal year 2023, the county is permitted to levy a total of about 101 mills. Last week, it approved a budget that levies 96 mills.

Why are commissioners, who have said they are committed to public safety, leaving funds on the table?

Yes, the commissioners are trusted to be prudent with taxpayers’ dollars, but at what cost?

Deputies are overworked and without the support they need to consistently provide service at a level that meets public expectations. If there ever was a time to tap into the full amount of funding available, this is it.

Luckily, the potential for a new revenue stream is on the horizon.

This November voters will decide whether to implement a local option tax on recreational and medical marijuana sales. Flathead County could see an estimated $460,000 in revenue yearly from the tax.

The county has yet to earmark how those funds will be used.

The pot tax won’t fully address the Sheriff’s Office financial needs, but it’s one remedy to help shore up the department’s immediate situation.

Residents should speak up now and let the commissioners know that funding public safety is a top priority. Let’s show our deputies that we have their back, too.

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