Federal funds to support expanded city law enforcement, new well
Ennis Commissioners approve 21/22 town budget
The Ennis Town Commission approved its 2021/22 budget at their Sept. 9 meeting. Before voting to approve the commission heard public comment – input received included concerns over prioritizing community projects over “pet” projects, support for more funding for the bustling Madison Valley Public Library, as well as support to hire another town police officer.
Meeting attendee Kirk Cardoso was in favor of adding an officer, citing the previous input from the town’s current and sole law enforcement official, Officer John Moore, who requested from the commission the use of federal ARPA funds to hire a second officer.
Commissioners had expressed concern that the federal funds would only fund a salary for one year, leaving future funding up in the air. Officer Moore felt confident he could secure funding for the second officer’s retainment.
“I think if that’s something he wants to put on his shoulders, you ought to give him the shot to do it,” said Cardoso.
The historically heated “town cop” discussion continued with comment from parents and community members who expressed their support to keep Officer Moore’s presence as a resource officer at the Ennis School District as well as the community at large, with the addition of a second cop included in the scenario.
The new position would need to be advertised as a one-year position, said Commissioner Jason Schroeder, “After the (ARPA) funding is gone, though, we’re gambling that the mill levy will pass, or, that we will be able to get some grant money, which, the grant money would also be a temporary solution.” Another option, said Schroeder,would be creating a resort tax to fund the second officer position. “The benefit of that is that it doesn’t hurt the Ennis taxpayers,” said Schroeder, who would like the commission to look further into what the position would entail. In a discussion that’s often been heated commissioners and attendees all shared a lighter moment with chuckles over the unlikely possibility of an officer on horseback.
Mayor Blake Leavitt clarified the law enforcement expansion, noting that the budget already has funds for a half-time position which has been unfilled, “It’s not a new position being created, it’s just an expansion of what we have.”
Commissioner Lisa Roberts recognized the community’s support for expanded law enforcement. Her biggest concern was related to the push to use temporary funding for a permanent position as well as the training that goes along with it. Roberts mentioned the possibility of a community service officer position which would not need to go to a backed-up Montana Police Academy and could assist Officer Moore immediately upon hire.
Going back to funding town law enforcement, Schroeder detailed a scenario in which a mill levy, to be placed on the May ballot, would pay for a second town officer and in doing so show the public’s support. The AARPA funds would then be used to expand the police department for one year.
Ultimately, it was decided the ARPA funds would be used to fund the position. The commissioners approved the final budget, which includes $254,035 in ARPA funds – $70,216 will go to law enforcement services to hire a second fulltime officer, $9,130 to salaries and wages for a total of $79,346 to employer contributions, and $174,689 to the Water Source of Supply and Pumping account for a new town well.
The commissioners also approved the tax levy for 2021-2022, with 86.79 levies for the General Fund, 12 levies for the Library Fund, four levies for P.E.R.S and 40.18 levies for health insurance. This breaks down as a mill levy based on a taxable valuation of $3,455,512 set at 143.15 mills for a total tax collection of $494.026. That breaks down as 96.79 non-voted mills, six voted mills and 40.18 permissive mills.
Commissioners also approved city employee compensations but noted that there is a library position being paid out at a much lower hourly rate than the board perceived as fair and livable. They plan to address situation, with input from the library board, at the October commission meeting.