Originally published in the 7/14/17 print edition.
BILLINGS — Yellowstone County Commissioners approved a resolution on Tuesday that sets a public hearing to be held Aug. 1, regarding a request of voters, on Nov. 7, to increase the Safety Mill Levy to help relieve pressure on the budget for the County Attorney’s office.
The proposal would increase property taxes by 8 mills, which would generate about $2.75 million, annually, in perpetuity.
Not only would the levy help meet the needs of the county attorney’s office, where felony cases have doubled in the last six years, it would also relieve pressure on other parts of the county general fund and reserve funds, which have been subsidizing the county attorney’s office. The county needs all those funds to address increasing costs in other county departments, associated with the same increase in crime.
County Attorney Scott Twito said that since 2000, his office has seen filings triple from unprecedented escalating crime, which is being driven by illegal drug use, primarily from methamphetamines.
The increasing caseload faced by the county’s judicial system prompted the state Legislature to approve two new district court judges for the county, which while important to alleviating the backlog of cases, puts even more pressure on Twito’s office. With the addition of two new judges, “it is going to be frightening,” said Twito.
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