HELENA — Voters in Broadwater County have narrowly approved a public safety levy, to help fund the sheriff’s office and detention center.
The five-year levy received just over 51% of the vote in the June 2 all-mail primary. Sheriff Wynn Meehan said he was gratified when he saw the final vote totals.
“For us, I think it was a huge stress relief,” he said. “I know I felt a lot of appreciation to the community for supporting it. I know it’s hard to do a self-tax upon yourself, I get it, but I was glad we got the support and it passed.”
The measure will raise about $704,000 each year. Meehan said, without that money, the Broadwater County Sheriff’s Office would have had to begin cutting staff positions – and likely close the county detention center.
For years, a large portion of the BCSO budget has come from revenue the county receives for holding other counties’ inmates in its jail. Some of that money is used to fund the patrol division.
However, much of that jail revenue will be going away in the coming months, once Lewis and Clark County finishes expanding its own detention center. Meehan said he expects to lose more than $600,000 in annual revenue when Lewis and Clark County takes back the roughly 20 inmates currently houses in Broadwater County.
“This stops that; we don’t have to use that as 46% of our revenue for funding public safety,” he said.
Meehan said, since the county began planning for the levy in January, his office has lost one patrol deputy, two detention center staff and one dispatcher. He said they haven’t filled those positions because they didn’t want to bring someone on when there was a chance they’d have to be let go soon after. Now, with the levy funding secured, they are already restarting the hiring process.
“Basically, it’s going to take us back to the level of manpower we had when we started this endeavor,” Meehan said.
Meehan has been talking about the challenges of providing law enforcement services to a growing county with limited resources for years, particularly after Deputy Mason Moore was killed in 2017.
While this levy won’t add to the services BCSO can provide, the department is taking other steps to try to expand its response. Meehan said they have been awarded a grant through the U.S. Department of Justice that will pay part of the cost to add two new deputies in the Wheatland area – the southern tip of Broadwater County, near Three Forks. The new positions will be added later this year.
“The hope is that they’re going to have more of a dedicated service there, and then the folks that are in the northern part and the middle part of Broadwater County, they’re going to have more consistent service as well,” said Meehan.
Broadwater County has also put together a citizens’ advisory board that will provide input on the sheriff’s office budget. Meehan said his office will be working with the board over the next few years to determine if they will need to continue the levy, reduce it or let it expire completely.