The City Commission has decided to send the Safety Levy to the ballot. Commissioners previously sought a property tax increase of 191% to fund the levy, essentially doubling the city’s budget to support this single levy. Outspoken supporters of the levy, like Commissioner Rick Tryon, quickly changed their tune when met with negative feedback from citizens. Although they’re still out of touch with what homeowners in Great Falls can afford, the safety levy is headed to the ballot, asking homeowners to approve a 65% increase to their property taxes.
How Much Would the Levy Cost You?
The city has noted that a 65% increase would come out to about $156.00 for a $100,000 house and around $300 for a $200,000 house. . A quick look at Realtor.com shows that the average home price in Great Falls is far nearer to $300,000. Using a house valued at 100,000 is a useless example of how the levy would affect most homeowners. So why is the city intentionally downplaying the expected cost to homeowners? Put simply, they know we can’t afford a 65% increase any more than we could afford their initial 191% increase.
Now the city is also looking to spend $150,000 on a private firm to advocate for the levy. That’s right, they’re spending over $150,000 of OUR tax money in an attempt to ALSO raise our property taxes by 65% Combine the hefty PR price tag with the arguably misleading housing market numbers being provided, and it seems the Commission is well aware that their ask is not practicable, affordable, or popular.
What’s the Return on Investment?
With the city seeking such a major tax increase, it’s important voters know what exactly this levy will fund. Of particular note, the levy would add two School Resource Officers (SROs) to the budget, with a total cost of $230,000 to the taxpayers. However, multiple studies have shown that SROs in no way increase the safety of schools. Rather, their presence has been shown to be harmful to the student population, particularly students of color. The National Education Association reports, “Yet research shows that SROs do little to reduce on-campus violence or mass shootings, and their presence is often damaging to students of color and students with disabilities. Having SROs in schools can actually create higher rates of behavioral incidents and spikes in suspensions, expulsions, and arrests.”
Concerns regarding SRO treatment of BIPOC kids has held true nationally as well as locally, as detailed in the ACLU Montana’s Empty Desks report. Read the report here: https://www.aclumontana.org/en/edureport2019?fbclid=IwAR2fN3MP81uDSVu0pYqHpkJnzKX9RX7pcq_rG9ZFTRfNvW-WqUr9LebG8W8
Studies also show that more police does not necessarily increase community safety. There is no indication that increasing law enforcement’s budget will result in a reduction of serious crime in our city. While police respond to crime, preventing crime is done by increasing community resources, like access to treatment programs for substance use and mental health. Do we want to focus on punishing criminals, or preventing crime from happening in the first place?
Can Great Falls Afford Higher Taxes?
In addition to concerns with the allocation of levy funds, the fact remains that Great Falls citizens are simply overtaxed and underpaid. An emerging housing crisis has already exacerbated the Great Falls housing market, and a 65% tax increase could be the final nail in the coffin for homeowners on a fixed income. Voters already approved a county safety levy last fall. Schools and other vital services also routinely rely on levies to support the increased costs of meeting community needs. If this massive safety levy were to pass, it would likely mean disaster for future levy attempts for other entities, like our schools. If education and public services deteriorate due to lack of funding, we could create an endless loop of increased crime and increased police budgets with a city that isn’t any safer.
Put simply, Great Falls citizens don’t have extra cash to support a 65% property tax increase.
Which begs the question, why is the Commission pushing dramatic property tax increases on homeowners while simultaneously giving massive tax breaks to companies like Calumet? How did the city decide our budget could forego $2.77 MILLION DOLLARS from the refinery, and then turn around and ask homeowners to pay an extra 65% on their houses? Read about the city’s massive tax-gift to Calumet here: https://wtf406.com/2022/09/county-approves-another-tax-break-for-refinery/
So which is it Great Falls? Do homeowners need to pay 65% more to fund a levy? Or are we so well-funded that we can give big-businesses massive tax breaks? Perhaps Great Falls will have fewer safety needs when none of us can afford to live here? Vote for the safety levy, and we’ll soon find out.
Read more about law enforcement budgets and crime rates here: https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2020/06/07/over-past-60-years-more-spending-police-hasnt-necessarily-meant-less-crime/?fbclid=IwAR3zAGkTZhyOMV1Sa63vlNauBDoL_EDCBBPjV-WyKw1mjTierzMlSXbiW_U
Read NEA’s full article here: https://www.nea.org/advocating-for-change/new-from-nea/making-schools-safe-and-just?fbclid=IwAR38MFtEguiBy4ALAxSimI7LdbLUDz_04MU9L7GBZqRVaW0y13Lv9XSIImg#:~:text=Yet%20research%20shows%20that%20SROs,suspensions%2C%20expulsions%2C%20and%20arrests