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Phillips County Sheriff's Office seeks new mill levy with lower cost to taxpayers

The Phillips County Sheriff’s Office announced this week that they are seeking approval on a mill levy which would lower the rate that landowners pay per year verses prior levies and generate more funds for the office. If not passed could severely handcuff their efforts to be proactive.

The sheriff’s office is asking for an additional $51,739.90 to be added to the $98,300 that has been approved since 2002. Additional tax above the statutory limit will actually decrease from 2002 and 2006 voted levies.

“Should the levy not pass,” said Moran. “We will not only not get the $51, 739.90, but we will also lose the $98,300 that has been approved by voters since 2002.”

Moran said if that should happen, the sheriff’s office would have to move from a proactive office to one which is more of a reactive.

“Our patrol times would be cut back because of the cost of fuel and things like that,” he said.

The current levy the sheriff’s office works with was initially passed in 2002. It was 6.52 mills to generate $98,300 per year. That levy was passed again in 2006 with 7.11 mills to generate the same $98,300 per year.

The proposed levy on this year’s ballot will be 8.56 mills and if passed will generate $150, 039.90. The 8.56 mills are not on top of the 2002 and 2006 levies, but rather replaces them at a lower cost.

For example, the 2002 per year increase costs homeowners with dwellings worth $200,000 a total of $45.12. In the 2014 proposal that same homeowner would see a payment of $42.29 for decrease of approximately $3.52 per month.

The sheriff’s office does not receive any money from the County General Fund and budget shortages have been made up in the past by funds received from oil and gas tax and PILT (Payment in Lieu of Taxes) Funds which are on a year by year approval.

“The Federal government gives us money to offset what we aren’t making in taxes,” Moran said. “But every year it has to be slipped into the Farm Bill and they are trying to cut the Federal Government all the time and if we lose that, it is huge. It would be huge for everybody. Taxes would definitely go up all over the county.”

PCSO uses the money they have been getting since 2002 in a frugal manner, according to Moran, and does not get exorbitant in the amount of money they spend.

“What has really helped us have been the grants we have received from Homeland Security,” Sheriff Moran said. “In the past four years, we have secured about $650,000 through them. That has helped us offset the cost to the county and the taxpayers.”

With that money, PCSO has purchased five new vehicles, inter-operable radio systems (about $5,000 each), various small equipment. They have patrolled approximately 85,000 additional miles and paid approximately 6,350 hours in overtime to deputies. Sheriff Moran said that the grant money does come with limitations.

“We can only use these grant funds for certain things,” he said. “We can only patrol north of Highway 2 and on Highway 2. You can only buy certain equipment and we can’t use that money to hire a deputy or to pay for anything that we should already have.”

50-percent of the grant funding goes to operational overtime and the other 50 goes toward equipment, fuel and maintenance as approved, but the grant funding is running out.

“The grants are getting harder and harder to obtain,” said Moran. “And I suspect that this next one will be under $100,000.”

The 2014 Stone Garden Grant has been applied for the PCSO, but the grant is for an unknown amount and will be, much less than previous years.

Should the levy not pass, a reduction in manpower and services may result.

“I don’t want to get to a point where we are just sitting here waiting for a phone call,” Sheriff Moran said. “The deputies, on average, travel 200 miles per shift in Phillips County not counting the Stone Garden time. That would, unfortunately, be greatly reduced (without the levy.)”

By statute, the sheriff’s office is limited on what they can tax the public on for public safety and they receive no monies from the general fund.

“Fortunately crime in Phillips County is relatively low at this point, but we have seen an increase since the first of the year when Moran gave his quarterly report to the City Council that the number of inmates was down from the previous year,” said Moran. “Since that report, the number of jailed inmates has skyrocketed. Its long-term inmates, we have to house them in Havre and Glasgow and we are averaging like four that are in there for multiple months and paying $60 per day to keep them there, plus the inmates that have to spend a couple of weeks or less. That really adds up fast.

The Phillips County Sheriff’s Office is a 72-hour holding facility and can’t pass the state standards to hold inmates any longer than that.

“We just hold them for 72-hours until court, or overnight, because we don’t have a law library, we don’t have a recreation area, we don’t have a pharmacy tech on staff, we don’t have jailers on staff,” he said. “All these things that we need and that’s not even to mention that Our cells wouldn’t pass state standards.”


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