And then there were two?
Ennis voters to determine fate of its Police Department
Ennis has released a special town ballot asking voters to levy $50,000 annually for the purpose of funding a second full time officer for the Ennis Police Department. The ballot language was written to ensure that the funding be exclusively used for this purpose while also maintaining the current police department budget. The funding will be provided by property taxes based solely on the state’s assessed value. According to the resolution signed by Mayor Nici Haas, the fiscal impact on a home assessed at $100,000 is estimated to be $19.53 per year. The resolution was adopted due to a significant increase in demand for services in the past seven years.
The Police Department’s report to the Town Commissioners states service calls (any call requiring a report) have increased 82.5% per day and 17.5% per night since 2014. In 2021 there were 628 “intown” calls alone, thus averaging one to two service calls per day.
Ennis’ sole officer, John Moore, has a 40-hour workweek, which includes time allotted for the initial response, follow-up investigation, paperwork, court dates, etc. This is leaving gaps in coverage for the community. Cases beyond Moore’s availability, particularly in the evening, are allocated to the Madison County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO) based out of Virginia City. Every service call from domestic violence and DUIs to barking dogs and prom security are handled in this manner. Madison County, meanwhile, stretches from our southern border to above Silver Star and from Big Sky to the Upper Ruby. Despite the cooperation between Ennis, the MCSO and the highway patrol, the coverage is spread considerably thin. Moore stated he has had to wait up to three hours for backup in the past.
The 2020 census claims 1,012 full time residents of Ennis. This does not include part time residents, visitors, summer traffic or future residents whose homes are being built by the dozens, even hundreds. Moore has already written five theft citations for 2022; he typically writes only five for an entire year.
As part of the increase in calls has come increased gun violence and a “huge uptick” of methamphetamine and heroin use in the state that is bleeding over into the smaller communities. Moore explained that they are seeing many of these drugs laced with fentanyl, requiring him to carry Narcan (a drug designed to reverse symptoms of an overdose). Last year Moore was required to administer Narcan three times. He feels certain these, and other drug related incidents, will continue to rise.
Residents may have noticed that Ennis seems to already have a second full-time officer, Matt Fisher. This is not the case and Officer Fisher will likely have to move on if the levy fails. Currently Fisher has completed two of his three phases of training, including graduation from the Police Academy in Helena. His part-time salary and training have been paid for by Covid-19 grants. If the levy is voted in, he and Moore will be able to cover Ennis 12 hours per day instead of just the weekly 40. Fischer was described as a very good people person that handles situations well beyond his years. Moore said Fisher is also someone who “really wants to be a police officer; a trait hard to find in today’s world”.
Moore stated that they would like to “Give the community the best possible policing to ensure everyone’s safety, but to do that we need more staff… I want the community to want the protection because little Ennis is not so little anymore.”
Ballots for a second full-time police officer in Ennis are mail in only, due May 3rd, 2022.