City to vote on putting fire department levy before voters

HELENA – The Helena City Commission will decide next week whether to let the public vote on raising taxes to fund more firefighters for the city.

The Helena Fire Department currently has 30 firefighters and the levy being considered would add an additional six people. It would also include funds for new firefighting equipment. According to Chief Mark Emert, the current equipment is outdated and replacements parts are often unavailable.

“It’s just crazy expensive to replace some of this equipment,” Emert said to the commission.

If passed by voters, the levy would raise $750,000 each year with about $600,000 going towards the new firefighters and the rest would be allocated to “big ticket items” like rescue trucks.

The levy would increase taxes on a $100,000 home by $15 and a $200,000 home by $30.

Emert said the funds would go a long way towards improving response times.

“Basically what it comes down to is multiple calls coming in at the same time,” Emert said.

The chief said on rare occasions, multiple fire calls occur simultaneously putting a strain on the available resources.

“We want to keep our response times reasonable so people are waiting ten, twelve, fifteen minutes for us to arrive on scene. When people call we want to be able to arrive and deal with the situation,” Emert said.

More firefighters would also allow for a level of redundancy in the department.

Ultimately, city leaders will decide whether to put the issue on the June 5 ballot at a city commission on Monday.