On Monday night, Billings City Council plans to start the process of asking voters for an increase in property taxes to support police and fire services.
Most Billings residents probably would like to see more police officers on their streets, particularly after a year of especially heinous, violent crimes. Fire protection is another essential public service. Staffing for firefighting and emergency medical response must keep pace with growth in population and acreage.
Public safety levies usually pass in Billings. But the levy options presented last week are big-dollar asks. That means the council and city administration have a lot of questions to answer for voters:
Tell us what the levy will cost us, what it will buy us and how the size of the request was calculated.
Explain why the present public safety levies are or will be insufficient.
Tell us if any outstanding lawsuits may affect how levy money is spent.
And finally, we call on the City Council to play it straight on the name for this levy request. Last week, the levy was renamed “Family Safety Levy.”
We understand the city wants to emphasize its efforts in making this a place where families can go anywhere in the city and be safe. As it asks for more money, it wants to remind people this taxpayer money will go directly toward safety and safeguarding a quality of life.
And yet, the naming convention, "Family Safety Levy," for its transparent motive, could be seen as alienating some who don't have families, whether by choice or circumstance.
It is the language of exclusion rather than inclusion.
Call this levy what it is: A public safety levy – to provide safety for singles, couples, families, businesses, churches, schools, shoppers, visitors, motorists, homeowners, students, seniors, babies and every other person and taxpayer in our city.
The Billings Gazette supports public safety. We look forward to learning more about this levy proposal. The city has a tight time-line to get the issue on the Nov. 4 ballot. There will be a rush to hold the required public hearing Monday night and pass a final resolution on July 28 to meet the Aug. 11 deadline for having ballot language at the county elections office.
The public education on the public safety levy needs to start right away.