Voters again nix Libby resource officer proposal

| May 8, 2020 8:35 AM

For the second year in a row, Libby voters rejected raising taxes to pay for a school resource officer.

In an election held via mail because of the COVID-19 pandemic, residents of Libby School District No. 4 voted 1,722 to 1,097 May 5 against funding the law enforcement position. The proposal would have added roughly 5.24 mills to a property owner’s tax bill.

Voters rejected a similar proposal last year, albeit it by a smaller margin.

School and law enforcement lobbied for the creation of the position, which would have been partially funded through a grant from Flathead Electric Cooperative. The utility was offering the district $100,000 over five years to help defray the cost of bringing on a new officer.

But supporters wanted to ensure they could pay for the position in perpetuity, which meant asking voters to cover the roughly $70,000 it costs to outfit a police officer annually. The price tag covers salary and benefits as well as equipment, like firearms, protective gear and a laptop.

Were it approved, the measure would have added roughly $7.07 to the tax bill of the owner of a $100,000 home or $14.15 to the owner of a $200,000 house.

Heading into the election, supporters, which included Superintendent Craig Barringer and Libby Police Chief Scott Kessel, indicated they planned to launch a more aggressive campaign for the proposal.

But COVID-19 changed all of that. The pandemic, which began reaching Montana in March, prompted state officials to order non-essential businesses closed and residents to stay home unless absolutely necessary.

Supporters of the measure, like Libby Public School Board Chair Ellen Johnston, acknowledged that coronavirus had come to overshadow all aspects of life. In an interview last month, Johnston said that proponents had to give up on traditional campaigning methods, like knocking on doors.

“I don’t think there’s anything normal about this election cycle, not compared to anything we’ve done before,” she said. “We’re just in a different place and different time right.”

The next election, the June 2 primary, also will be conducted via mail.