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    Carbon County bucks trend, passes levy to fund emergency services

    By Charlie Klepps,


    In an election night that proved to be tough for mill levies around the state, Carbon County voters bucked the trend by voting in favor of a $1.2 million levy for emergency and ambulance services.

    The additional money will be directed to services around Carbon County, such as Red Lodge Fire Rescue, Joliet EMS and Clarks Fork Valley Ambulance, which all are primarily volunteer-based.

    Red Lodge EMS Assistant Chief Torsten Prahl said it's a huge victory that will go a long way in helping respond to calls. Prahl said that last year, the service missed 33 calls due to a lack of resources.

    "We were ecstatic," Prahl said Wednesday afternoon. "The money is going to help us keep doing what we're doing."

    Prahl said that he and his team were anxious about how the vote would go. They tried to pass a similar levy last year that failed and the cost of living continues to increase, making it difficult for voters to support tax increases.

    "We were definitely anxious," Prahl said. "We were all checking the website throughout the night last night to see what the results were. With inflation and the cost of goods, it was definitely a concern."

    The levy was passed with nearly 70 percent approval.

    “The funding is definitely going to help us," Prahl said. "It's why we were asking for this ballot initiative was to get that funding, but the true benefit of it is is us realizing that the community supports us."

    Not all levies in Montana were so successful. Two levies in Southeastern Montana — one aimed at providing the town of Baker with its first licensed child care center, and another which would have provided money to the hospital in Ekalaka — were both voted down by wide margins. That's just the second time in 30 years that the Ekalaka hospital won't be funded through a levy, which is reviewed every two years.

    In Big Horn County, voters turned down a levy to maintain roads and buy fire equipment, while in Park County, a levy seeking to improve roads over the next decade met a similar fate.

    According to political analyst and University of Montana Professor Lee Banville, failed levies are becoming increasingly common in the state.

    "Between property taxes and inflation, it's a real hard time to be going to the public and asking them for money," Banville said Tuesday before the election. "Montanans are kind of starting to chafe at what they maybe see as unfair taxes."

    Those who supported those levies in small Montana communities agree.

    "I mean right now, asking anybody to spend more money on anything is a tough ask," said Vaughn Zenko of Baker, the director of the Eastern Montana Economic Development Authority .

    But that doesn't make the need for child care in Baker any less crucial. Zenko said that many Baker residents aren't working because of the lack of options.

    "On a day-to-day basis here, the struggles are that parents can't work because it's too expensive and there's not enough daycares available," Zenko said.

    He added that the lack of workers then affects the entire economy of Baker and that eventually something will need to change.

    For now, they'll work with what they have — searching for funding alternatives.

    "That's probably the plan going forward is really just focus on what we have and do the best we can," Zenko said.

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