ABOUT THAT MILL LEVY IN CASCADE COUNTY
Below is a transcription of the interview Pat and Randy did with the sheriff of Cascade County, Jesse Slaughter and County attorney Josh Racki concerning details on the upcoming Mill Levy on the ballot this November in Cascade County.
Pat: Trying to give you some details on the Mill levy, which will be on the November ballot for you to decide. Mil levy includes dollars to fund the county attorney's office, and we're going to find out why they need it and all the sheriff's office, which we've talked about a bunch of times. So, Sheriff, I know this is usually your segment, but I want to start with Josh, if you don't mind. You cool with that? Josh, why does the county attorney's office needs some new money?
County attorney Josh Racki (above)
Josh: Well, because we're so far behind in salaries, we're just having trouble hiring people right now. We have two or three spots open. I've had one of those spots open for over six months without I had one applicant who then took a job elsewhere because you would make so much more money. On average, we're about twelve to 13 behind any other county attorney's office in the state. One of the things we're looking at right now, which the sheriff can certainly sympathize with, is the city of Great Falls has asked for a new city attorney prosecuting attorney, and they are about $10,000 over us, just to start.
Pat: Wow. So where do you lose most of your people to the city? Like the sheriff's office?
Josh: No, we just generally lose them to law firms and other places across the state, but it's really hard to get people, I can't, quite frankly.
Randy: Josh, if you would, we've heard about case loads compared to other major cities, billings, missoula. Talk about your caseload as a comparison. Sure. So my attorneys run about 75 active felony cases set for trial. That means the person has been arrested and we're awaiting and either set at trial or waiting the trial date. Most county attorney's offices don't run that many cases. I actually don't count in there. All the other cases revocations and stuff like that. We work really hard. I don't have last year's numbers, but the year before was the first year. And since I've been county attorney, that another jurisdiction has tried more cases than us, and that was billings. And if I remember correctly, they beat us by two. And what's interesting about that is they found twice as many felony cases and billings as we did, and they still only beat us by two trials. So we tried a lot of cases here.
Randy: So you kind of answered the question I was going to ask. Does the sheriff arrest more people than the other counties, or is it something that why do we have so many more cases?
Josh: That's a good question, and I don't know the reason why for case filings were third in the state behind Billings, and just like 40 behind Missoula. And both of them have a much larger population than we do. But for our population, we're probably, per capita, one of the biggest case files in the states.
Randy: Well, is it that we don't plea out so many that we're actually holding people accountable.
Josh: I think that maybe a little bit, but that doesn't account for filing of cases. I mean, our sheriff's office and the Great Falls Police are just very efficient at picking people up.
Pat: Sheriff, if you want to chime in there. Are you arresting more?
Sheriff Slaughter (above)
Sheriff: You got to remember that when I got elected, we brought a new philosophy to the Cascade County Sheriff's Office, which was very aggressive, tough on crime, and that's why we got two canines. That's why we started our Violent Crimes Task force. That's why we added more people to our Drug Task force. We hired an Endangered Children Detective and Internet Crimes against Children Detective an SRO. SR. Doesn't really lead to our children being arrested, but oftentimes child abuse cases, childhood life cases, it leads to some abusive parents being arrested. So what I think you're seeing is with the new philosophy of the sheriff's office and the Great Falls Police Department does a great job. And that's one of the things I want to touch on with this. Levy everybody needs to understand this levee is a City of Great Falls issue. It's a city of Great Falls. Public Safety Mill levy because we are the infrastructure for the city. So the city doesn't give the sheriff's office or the county attorney's office any money. It's not how the legislature set this up. But we prosecute all their felony cases, all their rapes, murders, violent crime, shootings, criminal endangerments, all are prosecuted by his office. The city attorney's office doesn't do any of those. We house all of their inmates, and all of that burden falls upon the county. We are the city government's infrastructure. Without the county having all of this stuff and having it run efficient, the city can go arrest whoever they want, but nobody is going to get prosecuted and nobody is going to go to jail because there won't be room and there won't be people to prosecute. And Josh is pretty humble, and I always say this, but Josh does a really good job. He's hard on his employees. Everybody in law enforcement has been overjoyed since Josh has been the county attorney because we feel like we have law and order in our community. And because he's made them work so much harder is why they really deserve the money.
Pat: This is a Republican talking about a Democrat very proudly.
Randy: speaking to which Sheriff Jesse Slaughter and County Attorney Josh Rocky. Sheriff, we talked about the comparable wages with the county attorney's office. You're in the same boat, maybe even a little bit worse off in the sheriff's office. Talk about that.
Sheriff: Yeah, for sure. Except for we don't have to have a JD to do our job. So that's why it's a little tougher for them. But in all seriousness, we're about 20 to 21,000 a year less than the PD people all the time. They will compare yourself to other counties, not the PD. And I'm like, well, that would be great if we lost people in other counties, but we don't. We lose about 30% of our people. Since I've been sheriff have gone to the police department. Here's example. I'll break it down really fast. If you stay your entire career at the sheriff's office, you're going to make about what I make, which is about a base pay of $69,000 right around in there. Or you can leave the Cascade County Sheriff's Office and start tomorrow at the Great Falls Police Department and make $71,000, and it goes up from there.
Pat: Wow. So if you stay your entire career at the sheriff's office, you still make less than a rookie police officer at the Great Falls Police Department. Holy cow.
Sheriff: Here's the thing. Law enforcement officers are here to serve. They are. They don't take this job because of money. They don't. But when you start looking at your partners downtown and you're doing the same job they do day in and day out, side by side, and we start getting into the higher ranks. For example, right now, the Chief of police makes close to 65,000 a year more than I make. So as you go higher and rank, the further divide goes, sooner or later, something's got to give. And due to I 105 being passed, the only way that Josh and I can get a pay increase for our people is to ask the public's permission.
Pat: It's the only way to do it in the state of Montana?
Sheriff: Yes. For counties. For counties.
Pat: Josh, are you confident that if this is approved, that you could hire some people quickly to get the full staff? I think you said you're with three or four short.
Josh: Yes, I'm confident that it would certainly help one, I guess case example is that recently the public defenders within the past couple of months got a giant raise. They were severely understaffed, and in a recent article, they said they had I think they called it a meteoric turnaround when they got their salary raised to about their starting salary is about 12 to13 thousand more than the starting salary to county attorneys are.
Pat: So the people that defend the people that are charged with crimes make 12,000 more than the people that are trying to defend the public to start offend the public.
Josh: And where that gets even worse is, for my guys, is after three years, a public defender is making about $90,000 a year. It takes 13 years for one of my attorneys to get to that same level.
Pat: Wow. How many have you lost this year, Josh?
Josh: Two this year. Two this year.
Pat: And where do they go?
Josh: For example, one of them went to another prosecution job in Washington, and then one of them, quite frankly, because they were already burnt out, she was working too hard, and she had a young family and she just couldn't do it anymore, which isn't unusual. I have, I think, three attorneys in my office, not including myself, that have been there long enough to make that 90,000 at 13 years.
Pat: What's the county attorney make, if I may ask? I know it's public record?
Pat: You're handling a lot of cases yourself? I don't know how many district attorneys handle cases themselves.
Josh: Yeah, I handle a heavy caseload, quite frankly, because I don't want to overburden my people and quite frankly, because I like handling cases. I mean, that's what I like to do. So a little of both, but really, if I just dropped them all, then those guys would have to pick up the slack.
Rany: both Pat and I got served on the same day, literally. And for those of you who can't see what I just handed County Attorney Josh Racky it is a summons to jury duty for both pat and I What's the chances of a media person actually making onto a jury trial?
Josh: It's hard to say how that would go. Of course, there could be a civil jury, but good luck.
Pat: How much is it going to cost?
Josh: So the cost is about $18.90 per $100,000 value of your home. \
Pat: That's over a year spread out.?
Josh: Yes. So we've been saying that's one or two pizzas a year is what it costs.
Pat: So, it's a $1.50 a month .
Sheriff: But Josh and I don't want to say it's nothing. Because right now with the biden inflation that we're all seeing and everything, that it's hard right now, and we don't want to be insensitive to people about that. Here's the issue, though. Josh and I office are charged with protecting your constitutional rights, and we are really concerned that we may not have the staff members to continue to do full services if we continue to lose people at the rates that we're losing people. We wouldn't be here if it wasn't urgent and super important if it wasn't. We would have just kept on chipping away like we have been. But its got to the point of where we're literally, I think Josh is 25% to 20% down in staff, and I'm easily 25% down on my end. Well, that's significant. That's a significant loss of people in your organization. It's hard for us to get them. Josh talked about hiring people, but what we're really going to do with this, is we want to get the full staff, and we just want to keep everybody we didn't ask for a whole bunch of personnel in this. There's only one deputy position that's going to be added due to this levy.
Pat: Hey, real quick, this reminds me of something real quick. Other people have said, is money going to come out of this to fund any covert people at the schools?
Sheriff: Well, that's the plan. That's the plan. The school safety part of it. That's the plan. Now, I know one commissioner doesn't like that plan. There's a backup plan to that. He probably won't like the backup plan. That's okay, because that's why I'm the sheriff. And we will sort through that, and we will make sure that our schools are protected, because we need to do that. And this funding is designed to do that exact purpose. So we need to find a way to make sure it does that.
Pat: Sheriff of Cascade County, Jesse Slaughter. Josh Racki, county Attorney. Thanks for clearing up some of the issues. And you guys are out there selling, and I know you were at the Women's Expo. You guys were out there doing it last week, and we'll continue to follow the story. And the ballots go out next week. Yes, ballots go out late next week. Josh, sheriff thanks. Appreciate it.
Sheriff: Thank you. God bless.