Voters Give Green Light to Build New Fire Station in Missoula, MT

June 7, 2024
The measure also will allow the city to purchase apparatus and hire new firefighters in Missoula.

Zoë Buchli

Missoulian, Mont.


Jun. 5—Missoula voters approved the fire levy on Tuesday's primary ballot by a strong margin, giving the green light to the city to hire more firefighters, purchase new equipment and build a new station.

In final counts, 63% voted in favor of the levy, with 37% against, according to the Montana Secretary of State website.

"This feels like very strong momentum for us, and I'm really looking forward to the future," Missoula Fire Chief Gordy Hughes said at a press event on Wednesday morning.

The measure will let the city levy an additional $7 million annually for the fire department budget to support increased firefighting needs, including up to 20 new staff and a sixth station, and permanent funding for the Mobile Support Team (MST). Raises for fire staff and a new engine will also be covered by levy funds.

Voter turnout for Missoula County was about 39%. Mayor Andrea Davis, Hughes and city councilors thanked Missoula's voters for passing the measure.

"This fire levy means for us that we can basically go out and hire 20 new firefighters," Davis said.

The department has been vocal about the needs for the levy as a solution to get overdue funding to Missoula's firefighters as call response times slip. It's an issue fire officials have said has left the department temporarily without resources to respond to new calls on multiple occasions. MFD hasn't had any substantial padding to its staffing since 2008 despite Missoula's population growth.

"Our tasks and workload in the streets of Missoula are substantial," Hughes said.

He said MFD hasn't identified an exact location for the sixth station but the goal is to alleviate call volume burdens on Stations 1 and 4, located in downtown and on Latimer Street. They're tentatively looking at building the new station west of Reserve Street and north of Mullan Road.

"We're going to look at all aspects of ensuring that we are meeting the needs of the community with those response models and the location of that new fire station," Hughes said.

Money for Missoula's Mobile Support Team — a crisis response unit dedicated to mental health and substance abuse issue calls — is also covered by levy. The team is part of the MFD but functions as a behavioral response service. It replaces a traditional police response that's available through calling 911. The MST has been run by grant money and federal American Rescue Plan Act dollars, but up until now has been without a continuous funding source.

"Having permanent funding for the Mobile Support Team is also a really significant component of this," Ward 5 City Councilor Stacie Anderson said on Wednesday. She said having the resources to expand the MST will have a noticeable impact on locals.

The levy request has been met with mixed reception from Missoulians, who have shared frustration over recent property tax bill increases. A mill levy for the fire department was first proposed by the city last summer, but the Missoula City Council quickly revoked it after residents raised alarm over tax bill hikes.

The levy will raise 34 mills on property taxpayers permanently. The city estimates property taxes would increase by $46 for a $100,000 home, $138 for a $300,000 home and $276 for a $600,000 home.

City officials said Missoulians won't see the tax increases from the levy until the next tax cycle. They're also waiting to hear back on whether MFD secures a federal grant for the 20 new hires that would push out the need to dip into levy dollars.

Davis noted MFD also plays a role in Missoula's natural disaster response, specifically to flooding and wildland fire events caused by a warming climate.

"The city of Missoula prioritizes public safety as number one in almost everything we do, and this is a really good example of that," Davis said. "We all recognize that we are stressed by the property tax scenario that's happening, and yet, despite that, we saw overwhelming support for this initiative."



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