BILLINGS- Friday, Lt. Governor Mike Cooney came to Billings to meet with local leaders to hear their thoughts on public safety and the rise in crime in Billings.
During the hour-long roundtable, local law enforcement officials, first responders and behavioral health and substance abuse specialists expressed interest in increasing education and funding for substance abuse prevention programs.
The hope expressed at the roundtable is to improve programs targeted at troubled teens to keep them away from drugs and issues with law enforcement in the first place.
In addition, panelists discussed the lack of professional and licensed counselors in Montana. Ideas were thrown around about bolstering mental health programs at Montana's universities to grow the mental health workforce in Montana.
Another topic at the roundtable was funding for the police department. Police officers said the recently passed Public Safety Mill Levy does not allow the department to expand; the funding is enough to keep the department operating at current capacity. Those remarks are backed up by comments made by Police Chief Rich St. John after the levy was passed.
In order to expand these programs discussed at the roundtable, more funding is required. Where that funding would come from is currently up in the air.
"I hate to say it, but it's usually always about money, and we know there are limited amounts of that around. But how do we use that money in the wisest way to get the biggest bang for the buck?" Cooney said. "I certainly agree with the comment that was made earlier that if we invest early on, we save a lot of money in the end."
Cooney also said it's important to take a look at the Montana tax code moving forward.
We reached out to the Greg Gianforte campaign, who said, in part, "Greg Gianforte will work to ensure addicts have access to treatment, and he'll enforce existing laws and work with the legislature to enact stricter ones against the criminals that push drugs into our communities."