If in no other way, the significance of the impact of drug abuse and the illegal trafficking of drugs, as well as related crimes, in Yellowstone County can be made clear by an evaluation of the budget for Yellowstone County. It would not be a stretch to conclude that as much as half of the $117 million county budget is in one way another spent to mitigate crime in the county, and without doubt a significant amount of that crime stems from drug abuse.

Given that, it would not be outlandish to declare that if one is interested in reducing taxes, one has to be interested in reducing crime and most especially curbing the use and flow of illegal substances.

So how much are we talking about? Dealing just with county taxes for one year: $34,261,059

But, before itemizing the budgets of county departments impacted by crime, we must give pause to the fact that the county has just completed a two to three year process of building an addition onto the jail, as well as refurbishing the 30-year old facility, to the tune of about $19 million.

Add to that the refurbishing of space in the courthouse to accommodate two new district court judges and their staffs, which cost $2.6 million, which the county is responsible to provide, for what is otherwise a state department. And, bear in mind, that does not include the $359,000 that the county is now paying to lease space in the Stillwater Building that was necessary to move some departments, to make room in the courthouse for the district court expansion. AND, further bear in mind, none of these figures include the state’s cost to fund District Court judges and staffs, and to fund the cost of defense attorneys for those who cannot afford an attorney.

Following are the current budgets for county departments that are largely, if not totally, impacted by crime:

Public Safety Mental Health Mill Levy           $1,254,585

Public Safety Mill Levy

    for County Attorney’s office                    $ 6,325,841

Youth Service Center                                   $ 2,915,052

Alcohol Rehabilitation                                 $    240,868

DUI Task Force                                          $    107,620

Justice Court                                              $ 1,605,110

Clerk of Court Department                          $ 1,419,490

Coroner                                                      $    513,575

Sheriff Administration                                 $    581,306

Detectives                                                  $ 1,409,532

Patrol                                                        $4,990,403

Records (law enforcement)                         $    850,166

Detention Center                                          $11,111,784

Detention Facility (maintenance)                 $     935,727

Of course not all of these departments deal totally with criminal issues, but there are other county departments not included here, whose services are used by these departments – such as technology, personnel, facilities, etc. And, quite often the county directs funds from the general fund to shore up a department when unexpected or special situations arise.

Also – capital costs for additional facilities are almost certain to mount as the jail is already – despite its 100 bed addition – overcrowded. AND … while the state recently provided two additional district court judges, statistics justify the addition of six more. As caseloads only continue to mount it is almost certain the state will be forced to add at least two more judges and Yellowstone County and its taxpayers will be scrambling to provide more space for them.

And, there are more costs that are never calculated into these totals.

It was recently stated about the Yellowstone County Detention Facility, that it has come to a point that almost all inmates in it are being held on felonies. Misdemeanor charges are seldom incarcerated any more, but even more interesting, is that increasingly misdemeanor crimes are not even charged in order to avoid further burdening the system. That is one reason so little happens to discourage vagrants in downtown Billings, which is imposing a cost on downtown properties and businesses.

In fact, laws are being changed to redefine what is criminal. In the State of Montana it is really no longer a crime to shoplift – ie. steal — so long as the value of the theft does not exceed $2000 -- in order to avoid having to put the perpetrators into the system. While that saves on costs for law enforcement, courts and jails, business owners are suffering the loss of millions of dollars to theft that is now legal and they have no recourse but to endure until they are forced to close their doors.

So if you are a taxpayers who doesn’t like to pay taxes, know from whence the problem comes, and know what must surely be the most serious problem with which we must deal.