E-City Beat recently submitted three questions to each of the six Great Falls city commission candidates and published the responses from the four who answered our request. Tracy Houck and Jasmine Taylor did not respond.
We thought it would be helpful to post each question one at a time and include each of the candidates responses together so voters can compare.
What do you consider to be the most important issue for Great Falls right now and if elected how would you respond to it. Please be as specific as possible by describing why you consider the issue to be the most important and the action you feel is necessary to address it?
One of the important issues Great Falls is facing, is the priority of Public safety.
Crime in Great Falls, Montana
Great Falls violent crime is 21.8. (The US average is 22.7)
Great Falls property crime is 65.2. (The US average is 35.4)
Statistics from https://www.bestplaces.net/crime/city/montana/great_falls
Violent crime is composed of four offenses: murder and non-negligent manslaughter, forcible rape, robbery, and aggravated assault.
Property crime includes the offenses of burglary, larceny-theft, motor vehicle theft, and arson. The object of the theft-type offenses is the taking of money or property, but there is no force or threat of force against the victims.
Great Falls Police Department needs more officers on Patrol.
There are approximately 6 officers on a shift. This number goes down due to vacations or sick calls. With the high call volume they deal with, it is extremely hard for them to be expected to randomly patrol areas to deter crime or actively stop it while it is occurring. To better serve the community there should be at least 8 officers on patrol per shift.
I feel this has to become a priority when doing the yearly budget. If the City Commissioners could meet ahead of the timeline for the budget and decide on what is most important, and plan a 5 year or more commitment to add 1 or 2 officers each year. By doing this, it allows the City Manager to know what is expected prior to putting the budget together.
I don’t like the idea of citizens voting on a safety levy. We should be voting on recreational such as parks, pools, how many trees that need to be planted or what graphics to put on a water tower ect…
Safety with in our city is a right not an option!
According to the US Census Bureau interim report released in February of this year, in an 8-year span between 2010 and 2018:
- Gallatin County (Bozeman/Belgrade) population increased 22,363 = 25% growth.
- Flathead County (Kalispell) population increased 11,179 = 12.3% growth.
- Missoula County population increased 9495 = 8.7% growth.
- Lewis & Clark County (Helena) population increased 5305 = 8.4% growth.
- Yellowstone County (Billings) population increased 12,155 = 8.2% growth.
- Silver Bow County (Butte) population increased 784 = 2.3% growth.
- Cascade County (Great Falls) population increased 320 = 0.4% growth.
If we don’t change this trend we will not have the tax base or resources necessary to adequately fund quality public education, public safety, or infrastructure going forward, because those costs will continue to rise while we continue to struggle to remain stagnant – and we won’t be able to maintain and grow the modern workforce necessary to attract and retain business.
Like it or not, ready or not, we are competing with other state and regional cities for resources, taxpayers, and the growth necessary to prosper in the 21st-century.
One of our top priorities must be to create a local environment conducive to better jobs and more opportunities for ALL of our citizens – starting with a streamlined development process, an unmistakable ‘open for business’ attitude and a new culture within our city of ‘How can we help you?’, rather than ‘You can’t do that here!’
I believe the lack of population growth to be the most important issue. We can’t grow our tax base without an increase in population and development. I have seen first-hand that one of the reasons is because Great Falls has a reputation for being non-development friendly. Developers are building homes and commercial businesses in the County where the regulations are less, time-frames are shorter, and costs are predictable. This directly decreases the tax base to bring needed services to the city and our school system.
We need affordable workforce housing so existing businesses can recruit employees, and new businesses will trust we have the resources for potential employees to view Great Falls as a desirable place to live and work.
The permit numbers for the last five years identify that homes are primarily being built in the County by double the amounts being built in the City.
Permit Totals for Single Family Homes
2019 2018 2017 2016 2015
Great Falls 33 45 54 52 39
Cascade County 63 89 108 87 71
We must decrease the over regulation and partner with land owners and developers to jointly create a vision of how we want our city to grow.
While there are several issues that need to be addressed or need to continue to be addressed, I believe that our most important issue is population growth. According to data released from our Development Authority, Great Falls has the second lowest per-capita personal and commercial property taxes of any city in Montana. If we are to raise the funds needed to properly insure public safety, add to and maintain our city’s infrastructure and promote growth we need to increase tax income to the city. I believe that the best way to accomplish that is to add to our businesses and population and thereby spread the required tax income across a larger number of tax payers.
Accomplishing that is not a simple or short term task. The second goal listed on the City Commission’s list of goals is, “Manage growth to preserve our resources, environment, and sense of community.” I couldn’t agree more with that goal. As is obvious by the number of “Help Wanted” and “Now Hiring” signs in front of city businesses, we don’t need more jobs as much as we need more high salary jobs that require education, skill and experience. With our current unemployment rate at less than 3%, a business seeking new employees will almost certainly have to “steal” them from other local businesses. In addition, the current shortage of appropriate housing for medium to higher income workers inhibits business efforts to recruit those workers to our city.