BOZEMAN, Mont.- For the past decade, Gallatin County and the city of Bozeman have searched for a solution for the growing public needs, including a joint project that would combine legal and law enforcement facilities that was shut down by voters in 2016.
Both county and city officials have made it clear both departments need a new home.
“Our current facility is old and frankly it’s unsafe,” said Bozeman Mayor Cyndy Andrus.
The means on how to fix the problem is what has been controversial. Back in April, the city decided not to work with Gallatin County on a joint project due to cost and the opportunity to house four city departments under one roof, more commonly known as the Bozeman Public Safety Center.
The new city building would house fire, police, municipal courts and victim services under one roof at a price of $37 million. The only catch? Gallatin County Sheriff and Bozeman Police would be separated.
For months, the city has pushed for the new facility, stating it meets the town’s current needs and would meet the demands of the future. Bozeman officials have hosted tours of the Law and Justice Center, held town halls, and hung signs with the slogan “keep Bozeman safe” hoping to push through the bond on November 6.
On Sunday, Gallatin County Sheriff Brian Gootkin decided to no longer remain silent with his opinion of the proposed city-only Public Safety Center. Gootkin said he was concerned with the project and that: “separating police officers, deputy sheriffs, detectives, and command staff, and replacing us with firefighters who have very different duties and responsibilities does not make you safer, it actually does the opposite!”
This post came in shock to many due to the fact that the city has said Gallatin County supported the levy and decided to wait on its own project in order for the city to go first. Andrus said this was clear by the letter addressed to her on April 30th, 2018 after the city decided to pursue a city facility instead of a joint Law & Justice Center with Gallatin County.
“So Gallatin County has been supportive in our efforts to put this on the ballot and let the city residents make a decision about what they would like to do with this safety center,” said Andrus.
The letter stated: “Should the city commission formally vote to put the Rouse Street proposal to the Bozeman City Voters, the County Commission does not want to diminish your chances of success.”
Marty Lambert, the Gallatin County Attorney, says this statement does not state the commissioners support the project but instead remain neutral.
“The county does not support this vote, I want to make that clear,” said Lambert. “Respectfully it is just not the right thing to do.”
Police Chief Steve Crawford thinks differently.
“I don’t believe that having a police station makes a community less safe. Is Belgrade less safe because it has a police station? Is MSU less safe because it has a police station?” said Crawford.
“When we split we will never get back together again and we are going to lose that familiarity we had with those individuals face to face setting and it is going to be to the detriment,” said Lambert.
The city said residents shouldn’t be concerned about the separation because the city will work hard to make sure the departments continue to work closely to ensure residents safety.
“Just because we are in a different building does not mean we are not interested in working together,” said Andrus.
In the end, it will be up to the voters on November 6th to decide what they want in their future.
No matter if it is approved or denied, Gallatin County and Bozeman will have to make big decisions regarding the public services they provide.