Helena has hired a marketing agency to spread the word about a proposed levy that would bolster the fire department's budget, but City Manager Ron Alles said the local government is not lobbying for the measure.
“The purpose is to educate,” Alles said. “There’s another group of firefighters separate from the city lobbying for the levy."
The city signed a $25,250 contract with Edge Marketing of Helena "to secure services for a public education campaign about the Fire Department Supplemental Levy that will appear on the June 2018 ballot."
The contract includes three direct mailing campaigns: The first will go to every registered voter, the second to all absentee voters, and the third to all voters but the absentees. These three campaigns will cost the city $12,500 combined.
The contract also includes $4,300 for ads targeting the citizens of Helena on Facebook, $1,000 for retargeting people who searched for fire levy information, $2,500 for a website devoted to the fire levy, $800 for search engine ads that pop up at the top of search results, $4,000 for radio ads and another $150 for a listing of registered voters in the city of Helena.
While state law generally prohibits the use of public resources for political purposes, the Office of Montana's Commissioner of Political Practices says there's nothing wrong with what the city is doing.
“We don’t hamper speech,” said Kim Trujillo, compliance specialist supervisor for the COPP.
The levy would raise $900,000 each year for the Helena Fire Department. If it is approved, the fire department will be able to procure six additional firefighters and have $300,000 for capital needs, such as new fire trucks.
In order to meet those requests, the levy asks the city to raise taxes by $18.43 per year for a home valued at $100,000 and $36.85 for a home valued at $200,000.
The fire department's current budget is $4.4 million, without including any capital expenditures. The levy would allow the fire department to operate without dipping into the general fund, and it would help replace vehicles used in rescue and an aerial ladder truck that has reached the end of its service life.
The latest mailers reflect this information and include other basic facts about the Helena Fire Department. They also include a large graphic on the back of the card that says “Due to heavy call volume in 2017, Helena firefighters were unable to respond to 19 calls and were delayed on 90 calls.”