A gathering at Amend Park Wednesday evening sponsored by the city with the goal of informing residents about the $12 million public safety levy that goes before voters early next month brought out one person.
Still, city leaders were encouraged, the man asked a series of questions and by the end he expressed his intention to vote for the levy. Wednesday night's gathering was the latest in a series at city parks that has attracted anywhere from one to a dozen participants.
Another meeting is planned for 7 p.m. Thursday at North Park. Ballots for the levy will be mailed out Friday and arrive in voters' mailboxes shortly thereafter. The ballots must be returned to the Yellowstone County Elections Office by Sept. 15.
"This conversation (on the mill levy) is about maintaining what we have," said city administrator Chris Kukulski. "We can't lose ground."
Billings Police Chief Rich St. John and fire Chief Bill Rash, along with Kukulski all spoke.
The meetings leaders have held around the city are relatively low-key affairs filled with tax figures, crime and fire call statistics, and budget items. City leaders are restricted by state law from advocating for the mill levy; instead they are tasked with providing basic information on the levy and the programs it would support.
The new levy will replace an $8 million public safety mill levy passed by voters 16 years ago. The levy is still on the books and continues to partially fund police, fire, municipal court and 911 services today.
Voting on this new levy will give residents the option to repeal the 2004 public safety mill levy, which specified that it would collect $8 million every year, and replace it with a levy that uses language based on a specific number of mills.
The new levy would collect 60 mills worth of funding from property owners instead of a set dollar amount. In 2004, 60 mills was the equivalent of $8 million; in 2020, it's worth about $12 million.
That increase will sustain the current staffing and equipment needs for the city's police and fire departments, and it will cost taxpayers who own a home worth $211,000 approximately $4.75 a month.
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