Local news- Press Release
Billings Montana - Billings mayor talks about population growth jail overcrowding and local option sales tax 25 May 2022 ( news )
Billings , state Montana ( By Press Release office)
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BILLINGS – Billings Mayor Bill Cole delivered a 15 - minute speech on Tuesday morning during the State of the City and County , hosted by the Billings Chamber of Commerce .
“The state of our city has never been better , ” Mayor Cole said at the start of his speech .
He touched on updates across city departments , and the event ended with a question - and - answer session with Yellowstone County Commissioner Denis Pitman .
The last topic drew some nods across the room when the topic of events at MetraPark came up .
Mayor Cole pointed out the disconnect between the public and private sector and the economic value of people visiting our community .
“Tens of millions of dollars flow into our community as a result of MetraPark . The restaurants and hotels and other businesses love that , but city government doesn’t have the same incentive . Whenever there is a disconnect between the incentives of the private sector and government , you’ve got a problem . We bring in more people , we have more crime , we have more traffic on our streets , etcetera . What we don’t see is the direct economic benefit to government to pay the subsidy that’s required to operate these city services , ” said Mayor Cole .
He acknowledged the visits to Billings generally benefit the property tax base in the long run , but it’s not immediately apparent .
“That’s why I’m such a supporter of a local option sales tax where we would be able to directly see when there’s a huge event at MetraPark that weekend , we made an extra $100 , 000 in tax revenue . All of a sudden there would be an alignment between the private sector and the public sector and that would be a total game changer , ” said Mayor Cole .
During the Q & A session , Cole and Commissioner Pitman also discussed opportunities for collaboration between the city and county .
The conversation turned to the Yellowstone County jail and the issue of overcrowding .
“One statistic that people need to understand is , most of the people in the jail are not there on misdemeanors , they’re there on serious felonies . Ninety to 95% of people in the jail are there on felonies and they’re there for several years . It’s not a short - term detention facility anymore , it’s a mid - term prison , ” Mayor Cole said .
Cole commented the issue is at the state level and it needs to invest more money in judges , prosecutors , prison space and paying more money to Yellowstone County for inmates who should be in custody of the Montana Department of Corrections .
“The state only pays about $70 a day for its prisoners housed at the jail and it costs about $100 per day . So we can coordinate , ” Mayor Cole said .
The city’s growing population was also a topic of conversation , as it’s estimated Billings grows by 2 , 000 people every year .
With the arrival of more people comes new homes and subdivisions .
“We’re seeing more and more subdivisions being approved by the county commissioners . A lot of people want a more rural experience . It creates rural problems for the city when we back up against that county development because those are people who don’t necessarily want to pay the higher taxes of being in the city , ” Mayor Cole said .
When a subdivision wishes to be annexed , the city usually runs into infrastructure issues , and retrofitting utilities comes at the expense of the city .
For years we’ve encouraged the county to engage in discussions about stiffening their development standards to be more like the city . To the credit of the county commissioners , they’ve done a lot of that , ” Mayor Cole said .
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