Article published Oct 23, 2007
City candidates sound off on public safety issues
Following is an online question for the candidates for city of Great Falls positions: Does the city provide adequate police and fire protection? What could be done to improve emergency services?
The city election is set for Nov. 6. Absentee ballots are available from the Cascade County Elections Office, 325 2nd Ave. N.
Here are the MAYORAL CANDIDATES’ RESPONSES:
ED McKNIGHT: Adequate implies some minimum level of protection and service, one that I believe has been legally achieved. However, I don’t believe we should be satisfied with adequate. Along with reasonable pay and sufficient manpower, police and fire departments will always have a wish list of things they need to provide increased services and superior protection. The opportunity a mayor can take is to work with commissioners by holding the city manager accountable in how taxpayer dollars are spent. Restoring priority services with ample funding will bring peace of mind to citizens and increase confidence in our bravest and finest.
DONA STEBBINS: Our city fire and police departments provide excellent services to our communities, in spite of some personnel shortfalls. The city plans to add public safety staff in the coming years to address city growth. This has been planned for and budgeted. As our tax base increases, it will be easier to retain personnel with added benefits and salaries. I am proud of both departments and feel confident that public safety is in good hands. We are addressing emergency services with a task force that has representatives from the city, county and emergency medical services. They are working to ensure fast, efficient and coordinated delivery of services.
SUSAN KAHN: A primary role of government is to provide public safety services. Police and fire are criti-cal to the city. We must allocated adequate resources to maintain these services. They need to be focused on their key mission. I’ve heard police officers say they get a lot of animal calls. One thing is to improve services is eliminating our Police Department having to deal with animal control and shelter issues. Ambulance service has been successfully contracted out. An important aspect for these is continuous improvement. We need to have benchmarks and a measurement system. My first-hand experience with emergency medical response was superb when they were called to my home to care for my daughter.
LARRY H. STEELE: The city’s emergency services do a great job for the city through responding to calls, education and public relations. More can always be done. In the ’60s, we had one firefighter for every 10 calls. Now we have one firefighter for every 100 calls. Plus the growing drug probably, mainly meth, the city’s services are stretched too thin. I would introduce an ordinance that would penalize property owners that have allowed their properties to be condemned or rundown. When a property value is lowered then the tax base is lowered. So we need to get these properties back up to the true value of the home. This is a non-negative tax rate to the city budget. This increased tax base would help provide better services and equipment to the emer-gency services. This plan is a three-part success plan for Great Falls. First, properly maintained homes are less likely to catch on fire, meaning fewer calls for the Fire Department. Second, rundown property and condemned buildings in neighborhoods promote drugs and violence, so improving these areas will lower the crime rate.
Here are the commissioner candidates' responses:
DIANE JOVICK-KUNTZ: Yes and no! Yes, we live within our budget. And no, we could always use more money for police and fire protection. The employees receive great training and this costs money. Because of our limited budgets, we are having a hard time recruiting and retaining employees. We have aging facilities that need costly updates. The commission has discussed the possibility of a public safety mill levy, mills that would be specifically dedicated for public safety. The community needs to be part of the discussion regarding a public safety mill levy.
ELNA HENSLEY: Overall, the city is doing a good job providing emergency services. Both the police and fire departments are continually striving to improve services and are very proactive in providing all staff with ongoing training. With the 2008 budget, the Fire Department added one new position and the Police Department added two positions. The city provides 911 services for all of Cascade County and Malmstrom Air Force Base. Recent software and equipment upgrades are improving response times and communications between jurisdictions. The fire department is working closing with the ambulance services in Great Falls to better coordinate services. Can we do better? Probably. As a commissioner, I will support providing adequate funding for the staffing, equipment, and technology needed to do the job.
STUART LEWIN: Emergency services are excellent in Great Falls. But of course they can always be improved. I would like to see whether city and county police-sheriff and fire services could be brought under joint city-county operations. I also feel that we need a single city-county growth policy backed by strong ordinances providing for smart growth. In this manner, the cost of providing these emergency services can be reduced while the effectiveness and efficiency is increased. Along with this, perhaps salaries can be increased and equipment upgraded with some of the savings.
BILL BRONSON: In my experience, we are fortunate to have a well-trained, dedicated police force and fire department. Over the next few years, we will need to consider policies and programs to make sure we maintain high quality. We must ensure that both departments are appropriately funded, that we can find qualified candidates for open positions in both departments, and that employees are fairly compensated in relation to what they do and we expect of them. As the city grows geographically, something happening right now, we need to consider whether existing facilities and resources are adequate to allow for timely, effective response to emergency situations such as crime reports, fires, etc. If elected, I intend to spend time “on the ground” with these people to get a better sense of what we need to do in the next few years to meet these goals.
MARY JOLLEY: I think the police should not be driven to asking for donations to acquire trained dogs. I have not been present for fire protections budget hearings but would rely on reports from the department before making a decision on increasing their budget. If this means ambulance service, I’m not aware that emergency services need to be improved. We have a private company doing a good job here. It appears the city wants to spend money on studies to justify controlling them. I do not need a city staff buffer zone between me and my 9-1-1 call. If it ain’t broke, don’t try to fix it. The thousands spent on the studies could have funded two trained police dogs.