BOZEMAN – On Sunday, the Gallatin County Sheriff Brian Gootkin spoke out in opposition of the proposed $37 million Public Safety Center. On Thursday, County Attorney Marty Lambert followed suit. The looming question now is whether county commissioners support the city’s project or not.
“The County Commission is not taking a position,” said Gallatin County Commissioner Joe Skinner.
Skinner said once the city decided to work on its own project without the county, the county took a back seat and chose to remain neutral in order to let the voters decide.
Skinner, on the other hand, has an opinion.
“I cannot speak for the commission, I can only speak for myself. Personally, I think the city residents should look really seriously at this option.”
An option that Mayor Cyndy Andrus says meets all of Bozeman’s pressing public safety needs: fire, police, municipal courts, and victim services.
“I think everybody in this room would agree that we have had a need for a new Public Safety Building for some time,” said Andrus.
Gallatin County Attorney Marty Lambert says separating police officers will have a negative affect on sexual and domestic assault victims.
“Respectfully, safety for some of the most vulnerable citizens that we have in this county will be diminished. (It) Will not be enhanced,” said Lambert. “The co-location of those services, with Haven, the civil advocates who get orders of protection in domestic violence cases and some sexual violence cases in with the Guardian Litem, in with my staff is the way to do this. When we split we will never get back together again and we are going to lose that familiarity with individuals, face to face setting and it is going to be to the detriment.”
Bozeman City Attorney Greg Sullivan disagrees. He said the only change in the service given to these victims will be the advancement of insured security. Sullivan said the separation will not be a problem because the Prosecutors office, which house the advocates are already located in a different building – City Hall.
“The dynamic of one partner driving over to the other won’t change,” said Sullivan.
Chief Prosecutor Bekki McLean said since she began working for the city four years ago advocates have had to drive to the Law & Justice Center daily.
“Our municipal prosecutors are currently located in a different facility and so we have made every effort to make the communication between our office, victim services, victims of crimes seamless and efficient,” said McLean. “I don’t understand the argument at all as to how a separate facility would compromise that in any way because we are already doing that.”
Means by how to fill these needs has been a question for over a decade ultimately leading to the government agencies pursuing separate projects. In 2016, a new proposed bond for a combined Law & Justice Center came before voters. Residents voted it down.
Lambert believes the city should not give up on a joint facility.
“When we are dealing in these difficult times and we rely on property taxes, this is when the long view simply must be taken,” said Lambert. “This is when frustration from rejection from the voters cannot be permitted to creep into your decision-making process. Let’s stay together, let’s work together to get back to project similar to the one we worked on a couple years ago.”
Skinner said the Public Safety Center meets all of the city’s pressing needs and if the bond doesn’t pass it would take years before the city and county would even be able to work on a joint project if it were to happen at all
“Any cost savings from a joint facility will be lost many times over probably just because of inflation and construction cost if you are looking at several years down the road,” said Skinner.
Skinner said since the city decided earlier this year not collaborate on a joint project, the county has been working on a project of its own it hopes to roll out soon.
On Thursday, in a letter, the Bozeman Police Protective Association stated: “While the members of the BPPA collaborate with our sheriff’s office counterparts on a daily basis, a majority of our time spent together occurs outside of the Law and Justice Center”… “Regardless if we share a building or not, our collaboration and communication will continue and we will continue to work together.”
Voters decide the fate of the Public Safety Center November 6th.
Reporting by Mederios Babb for MTN News