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Fire district seeks funds on ballot to pay for increased staffing

Firefighters in front of a burnt building with a water hose.
Livingston Fire & Rescue's Facebook page
A spokesperson for the Montana Department of Justice says the fire marshal’s report is still being compiled and did not share additional information.

A fire district that serves Belgrade and surrounding areas is asking voters to approve a tax increase to pay for extra staffing that fire officials say will help with faster emergency response times.

The fire district is seeking up to 30 mills, but initially would levy 23 mills, which would generate an added $2.2 million dollars a year.

The Central Valley Fire District proposes to triple its 10-mill rate to pay for staffing. If passed, the owner of a home with a $600,000 assessed value would pay an added $162 per year.

Fire Chief Lonnie Rash says the increase would pay for more staffing

“Because we have had staffing shortages, our call volume has increased substantially, and over 33 percent of the time, we are going to two or three or four calls at one time, which is causing us to delay response on that second and third call,” he said.

Rash says some staff have left for higher paying jobs elsewhere and funds would be used to increase current staff pay in hopes of improving retention. The funds would also go towards hiring new staff.

“Because of the significant growth in the call volume, we would hire additional staffing, and that would be probably up to 12 firefighters over the next couple of years. As you might see, Belgrade commercially is starting to grow substantially right now, and so we would look at hiring two fire and life safety personnel. And those folks are the folks who do plan review, who go out and inspect those buildings to make sure they are safe for the community to go into,” he said.

The Central Valley Fire District is currently in deficit spending using reserve funds and one time grants to pay for some of its staffing costs. The district services 36,000 people covering a 200-square mile radius, which includes Belgrade, Springhill, Dry Creek, Four Corners, and other surrounding areas.

Olivia Weitz covers Bozeman and surrounding communities in Southwest Montana for Yellowstone Public Radio. She has reported for Northwest News Network and Boise State Public Radio and previously worked at a daily print newspaper. She is a graduate of the University of Puget Sound and the Transom Story Workshop.