Public Safety Mill Levy and Bond

Photo of police officer, police dog, and firefighter.

The City Commission is asking Helena residents to decide on a mill levy and bond to meet the City’s public safety service needs. Voters will be presented two ballot questions related to public safety on the June 4, 2024 Primary Election ballot.


The Helena Police Department and Fire Department need additional staff to meet the demand for service in the City. Both departments completed studies by independent consulting firms, which identified the gaps in staffing. In addition, the Fire Department Master Plan confirmed the need for a third fire station to meet the City’s population and geographic growth. The current level of revenue the City of Helena receives from property taxes does not support the community’s public safety service needs today, or into the future.

On February 26, 2024, the City Commission approved a resolution by 5-0 vote to include the mill levy and bond initiatives on the primary election ballot.

The Facts

Fire Department

  • The Fire Department responded to 4,887 calls for service in 2023, which is the most ever for the department. In 1979 when the City began operating a second fire station, the department responded to 504 calls.
  • The need for a third fire station was identified in 2007 and 2022 planning efforts.
  • The Fire Department doesn’t have space for all its response vehicles to be stored in Helena. Its’ hazmat vehicle, for example, is stored in Montana City, which substantially impacts response time.

Police Department

  • The Helena Police Department's Patrol Division has not increased staffing in 20 years. In that time, the City limits have grown by approximately 3 miles.
  • The Police Department Patrol Officers currently spend 34% of their time engaging in proactive policing. The industry standard suggests 50% of patrol time should be spent in proactive activity.
  • Currently, the average caseload for each detective is 13.5 cases per month. In 2023, HPD Detectives worked 521 total cases.

Community Questions

The following questions have been asked by residents throughout the City's public education effort. Please check back for updates.

How are public safety services funded?
The Police and Fire departments are primarily funded through the City’s General Fund. The General Fund receives most of its revenue from property taxes. The City’s General Fund is allocated approximately 20% of property taxes collected. The rest of your property taxes collections are distributed through special districts and assessments, to local schools, the State, and Lewis and Clark County.

Why didn’t the City use COVID funds to pay for public safety services?
The City received local recovery funding twice during the COVID pandemic. The first disbursement was through the CARES Act and the second round of funding came through ARPA. Because the General Fund savings created by CARES and ARPA were one-time funds, the City Commission made a prudent decision to not use the money for on-going expenses, like salaries.

The CARES Act funding was used to cover government services (salaries and benefits) within the police and fire departments, as well as some direct costs related to combating disease spread such as personal protective equipment. The CARES Act funding did result in some General fund savings, which was redistributed for some community and City one-time projects, including the Fire Department’s Master Plan.

The City claimed ARPA money as lost revenue, which in turn created savings in the General Fund. The City Commission allocated part of its ARPA funds to community projects. The Commission also directed approximately 1/3 of the funds to Water and Wastewater projects, which was a priority spending allocation from the federal government. Some ARPA money was used for City operations needing one-time funds to complete projects. The Commission did allocate $750,000 for a new Dispatch and Record Management system (CAD/RMS) that was crucially needed. The County also provided $750,000 as it is a shared resource. The City Commission also contributed $47,000 toward the replacement of a wildland fire truck.

Conceivably, the General Fund savings that was a result of the COVID-related money could have gone toward construction of the third fire station. Because the City does not currently have staffing to run a third fire station, funding for 15 firefighters would still be needed.

Why doesn’t the City cut funding for other services to pay for Public Safety?
The short answer is, there are very few options for reducing current services to expand public safety funding. Because public safety is funded primarily through the General Fund, there are limited services that utilize the same funding source. For example, water, wastewater, and street maintenance are funded from different areas of the City budget and restricted for those purposes. Public Safety accounts for a majority of the General Fund already, and most services in the General Fund are required by state law and/or necessary for the City to do business.

What happens if one of the ballot measures passes, but not both? 
The ballot measures are not fully connected, but the Fire Department requests do affect each other.  A new fire station, if passed through the Bond, would need staffing to operate fully; the Mill Levy would staff the new fire station.

The Police Department’s request is more straight-forward. The Police Department has capacity in its facility to increase staffing if the Mill Levy passes. 

For the Fire Department, the addition of 15 firefighters is contingent upon the addition of a third fire station. If the Mill Levy passes, but the Bond fails, the Fire Department would not have the ability to take on 15 extra firefighters. The current two-station staffing model could accommodate as many as 6 additional firefighters, so the number of mills levied by the City could be less than requested. 

Similarly, if the Bond passes but the Mill Levy fails, the Fire Department would have the authority to issue bonds to pay for a third fire station, but it would not have an adequate number of firefighters to operate the facility. Additional staffing would have to be secured for an additional fire station to provide service 24/7/365. 

If the levy passes, how quickly can staff be hired? 
For both the Police and Fire Departments, it will likely take time to ramp up hiring and fill all the new positions. 

For the Fire Department, hiring all 15 firefighters is dependent on construction of a third fire station. The department could look at adding 3 new firefighters immediately, but the remainder would be phased in during the construction of the new station. 

For the Police Department, the hiring process will be dependent on the ability to recruit enough qualified candidates. Some of the positions, like the unsworn Crash Investigator, would likely be easier to fill compared to the Patrol Officer positions. Patrol Officers also must complete Academy and Field Officer Training prior to being fully independent, which means there is generally a 7-month period from hire to full duty. The addition of the new Crash Investigator position would help add capacity to Patrol while those new officers are being recruited.

Will the City need additional money to buy equipment?
The Mill Levy and Bond both include equipment costs. For the new officers, the Mill Levy would provide uniforms and equipment, as well as a new patrol vehicle for the 3 Patrol Officers to share. The Fire Department’s new position request also account for equipment and onboarding of the new firefighters.

The Bond ballot measure includes funding to purchase equipment for operation of the new fire station and training facility.

What would the funding provide?

The Public Safety Mill Levy would provide funding for 9 Police Department staff and 15 Firefighters. The Police Department would add 3 call-taking Patrol Officers, 3 detectives, 2 Community Resource Officers, and 1 Civilian Crash Investigator.

The Bond request would allow the City to issue and sell General Obligation Bonds to fund the construction of a third fire station. Currently the City has two fire stations, which are both located south of the railroad tracks. Limited access to various areas of town substantially impacts the Fire Department’s response time. As part of the bond question, the City Commission is also requesting the authority to levy 5.66 mills per year to pay for the debt service tied to construction of the new fire station.

Fire Station

The Helena Fire Department currently operates two stations. Both stations are south of the railroad tracks, which can substantially impact response times to various areas of the City. The Fire Department also does not have sufficient space to house all its’ response vehicles in the City. For example, the hazmat vehicle is currently kept in Montana City. Finally, Stations 1 and 2 are at their capacity, limiting the City’s ability to increase staffing levels without additional space.

The proposal for a new fire station includes a training facility. The department currently utilizes a training building at the airport, which takes on-duty personnel away from their stations. By including a training facility at the new station, it would allow crews to train while continuing to provide emergency response.


Adding 15 firefighters allows the Fire Department to staff a third station, which improves the department’s ability to provide safe and effective response. The increased capacity allows the department to better handle multiple calls, as well as large scale incidents. Finally, the new staff allows the department to utilize a staffing model that reduces the amount of overtime, which has been a significant financial obstacle for the City.

Patrol Officers

The Police Department Staffing Study identified the need for three additional Patrol Officers by 2028 to achieve a 50/50 split between reactive and proactive policing. The goal with adding additional call-taking officers is to expand capacity, reduce the amount of time spent writing reports for each officer, allowing patrol officers to spend more time in the community.

The number of calls for service and the number of reports written by Officers has increased over the last 20 years. Despite the growing workload, the Police Department has not increased staffing during that time to properly meet the demand. With the increased call load, the proactivity for Officers has in turn, decreased. Less proactivity means less officer presence within the community (i.e. traffic enforcement, extra patrols, community engagement).

Additionally, as call for service levels are important and are a good indicator of the amount of work coming in, it is not the only consideration when determining the amount of staffing needed. The Police Department does not have the ability to close its doors and not answer calls for service. The Police Department needs to staff additional Officers to ensure the ability to answer sudden spikes in calls safely and promptly.


The Criminal Investigations Division (CID) case work has evolved over the last 20 years due to a variety of reasons. One of the most significant factors is the changing landscape of technology. In most cases, surveillance footage and phone data are key pieces of evidence. Obtaining this evidence often requires search warrants or subpoenas. Analyzing the data also requires an enormous amount of investigation resources. Technology also helps detectives in ways not previously available, and utilizing it usually requires additional investigation time.

Adding 3 Detectives (Internet Crimes against Children/Violence against Children/General) in specific fields would provide subject matter experts for these investigations, not only for the actual investigation, but for the successful prosecution as well.

A snapshot of 2023 for CID, Detectives investigated 521 cases which generated 883 reports. HPD Detectives currently average 90-130 cases per year.

Community Resource Officers

The position of Community Resource Officers (CRO’s) would be a new position for the City but is common among similar-sized Montana police agencies. Helena's Community Resource Officers would work as liaisons between the public and the police department in helping resolve community problems. These officers would proactively look for additional ways to interact with the community and have a focus on the large number of non-criminal calls for service that the Police Department receives daily. With not being bound specifically to calls for service, they will have the opportunity to engage in targeted education related to pedestrian and traffic safety.

With the City's growing unsheltered population, Community Resource Officers would work closely with and build partnerships with non-profit groups and other service providers to lessen the negative impact on individuals, families and the community. The Police Department tries to accomplish this staffing model every summer by assigning one to two Officers to a CRO role. Unfortunately, this takes officers away from other areas of the Department (Patrol or Investigations) to accommodate this community policing. For the CRO position to succeed, two full time Officers should be dedicated to work in this position throughout the year and not a few months during the summer.

Civilian Crash Investigator

HPD currently has one civilian crash investigator. This was implemented in 2021. The primary duties of the crash investigator are responding to traffic accidents and subsequent investigation. They also assist in locating, responding, and marking abandon vehicles.

In looking at data from the past 20 years (2003-2023), crashes make up approximately 20% of the calls for service that come into the Police Department.

By adding one more civilian crash investigator, the department can stagger when crash investigators work throughout the day to appropriately respond to these crashes. Again, by having these crash investigators responding to crashes, it will lessen the call load to Patrol Officers and in turn, allow them to be more available for public safety incidents.

Financial Impact

Mill Levy

Voters are being asked to authorize the City of Helena to levy up to 31.66 additional mills per year, which could generate up to $3,123,358 in revenue to fund the public safety personnel and equipment needs. The following breakdown explains the projected property tax impact from the Mill Levy:

FY2024 Calculation

 Current Market Value of Home   $100,000   $300,000   $600,000 
 Taxable Rate: 1.35% of Current Taxable Value   $1,350  $4,050   $8,100 
 Calculated Total Property Tax (31.66 Mills)  $42.74 / year  $128.22 / year  $256.45 / year


Based on the FY24 calculation, a home valued at $300,000 would be taxed an additional $10.69 per month.

Funding would be dedicated to the sole purpose of funding the additional Police staff and Firefighters, as well as equipment needed for the positions, as outlined in the ballot language.

General Obligation Bonds

The ballot question asks voters to authorize the City of Helena to sell and issue General Obligation Bonds for the construction of a new fire station. The ballot question also asks for the authority to levy up to 5.66 additional mills to fund the debt service for construction of the fire station, training facility, and equipment needed for the fire station to operate. The following breakdown explains the projected property tax impact from the Bond initiative:

FY2024 Calculation

 Current Market Value of Home  $100,000   $300,000   $600,000 
 Taxable Rate: 1.35% of Current Taxable Value   $1,350  $4,050  $8,100
 Calculated Total Property Tax (5.66 Mills)  $7.64 / year  $22.91 / year  $45.81 / year


Based on the FY24 calculation, a home valued at $300,000 would be taxed an additional $1.91 per month.

Funding would be dedicated to the sole purpose of covering the debt service from construction of the new fire station and training facility, as well as equipment needed for the station to function.

Events and Presentations

The City will be hosting and participating in several events to present and answer questions about the Public Safety Mill Levy and Bond. Please check the calendar below for upcoming opportunities to learn more about the initiatives. A quorum of the Commission may be present at these events; however, due to the informational nature of this event, no decisions regarding City business will be made.

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Educational materials have been paid for by the City of Helena, City Attorney Rebecca Dockter, Treasurer, 316 N. Park Ave, Helena MT 59601.