Commissioners Consider Increased Tax to Fund Sheriff's Request

Butte-Silver Bow Sheriff Ed Lester made a request of $25,000 of the Council of Commissioners at last week’s Committee of the Whole meeting, citing a letter sent from the Broadwater County Attorney’s office. The letter, and the request for this sum of $25,000, concerns the prosecution of Lloyd Barrus, who is a accused of killing Deputy Mason Moore in 2017. Ed Lester presented the letter before the council.

“This basically was sent to the council and the chief executive some time in 2017 when they asked for our financial assistance, and then again in December. It kinda got lost in the wayside I guess, so I didn’t see any response. I received an email from the Broadwater County Sheriff Wynn Meehan asking what the status of this communication was, so I thought I would put it on the agenda and ask for the council to discuss this request and give Broadwater County some kind of response.”

Sheriff Ed Lester said other counties have responded, but not all of them.

“Looks like Granite County has pledged $25,000. And then you can see the other agencies involved, some of which have provided financial assistance directly, or care and custody of the inmate, or investigators. And it looks like there are some other jurisdictions that haven’t responded yet as of this letter, which was in December. So I don’t know if there’s additional resources that other jurisdictions have pledged.”

Commissioner John Sorich then asked Budget and Finance Director Dannette Gleason where these funds might come from.

“Prior to any addition like this right now, we were anticipating a tax increase on $100,000 of a little over $6. A quick calculation on $25,000 is another half of a mil or so, a little less than half of a mil, so probably another .50 cents on that. It’s not like there’s a funding source, unless you as the commission decide to cut somewhere else, or you decide a different approach with some different other funds that you contract with that you no longer want to contract with, or some other source. It’s not like I can make money. I don’t have a machine to do that in my office. Those questions are always pretty tough, because it usually comes down to adding; additional budget expense adds money to the budget. So at this point in time, the way the budget is balanced, it would be additional (depending on how the values come in) could be an additional .50 cents. it just depends how our tax values come in. Or if you choose to cut another department’s budget.”

Budget and Finance Director Dannette Gleason said homeowners in Butte-Silver Bow with homes valued at $100,000 or more would be taxed an additional .50 per year in order to pay for the prosecution of Lloyd Barrus, which would meet the Sheriff’s request. Sheriff Ed Lester says a request of this kind is unprecedented.

“Not that I’m aware of. I’ve never heard of an incident where other jurisdictions donated money to prosecute. Although, if you look at it, we’re victims here too. Townsend has taken on the prosecution for the whole thing when the allegation is this guy tried to kill three of our officers here too. I don’t know if there’s any precedent. I suppose there may be some history but I’m not aware of anything since my tenure.”

Commissioner Jim Fisher was concerned that a new tax would be hitting people on both sides of this judicial matter.

“I guess the thing that bothers me is; I don’t know what the defense is or whether he might have public defender. So it seems to me that, as taxpayers, we’re paying for both sides. You know, we’re paying to defend him, because we’re paying them high priced lawyers out of our tax money some how somewhere. And on the other side, we’re gonna pay to prosecute him. So we’re getting nailed on both ends against the middle. So our judicial system is working, and it’s a tough one. I will support this; I agree with what you said. Dannette, I guess we’re gonna have to find the money some how some way, but when you think about it, think about what I said. We’re paying for both sides on this thing.”

Despite coming close, with a motion on the floor to institute the new tax on homeowners, this item was ultimately held in abeyance. Forthcoming conversation will take place in coming council meetings, held every Wednesday at 730. We’ll have more on this developing story.

For KBMF, I’m Clark Grant.